Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grades - The Unfortunate Foundation of Our Education System

Unfortunately, grades are the foundation of our education system. This can be a crippling reality for certain learners. It is similar to the emphasis that colleges used to place (and some still do) on SAT scores. I had a classmate at my prep school during the late 1970's who was a straight "A" student, a three-season Varsity athlete, very involved in extra-curricular activities, etc., who did not get accepted at a single college because he had moderately low SAT scores! In addition, I remember attending a conference a number of years ago where the keynote speaker suggested that students should approach their teachers on the first day of school and ask, "what do I need to do to get an 'A'?" Although I never have had a student actually ask me that question, too often I see the negative effects when a student receives what he/she perceives as a poor grade. Recently, I returned a quiz in which one of my students earned an 85% (right around his overall average) who proceeded to email his dad--during class--that he had just received a bad score! When the father emailed me for specifics, I was dumbfounded that the boy really thought an 85% was a bad grade. His dad agreed with me, as his son had neglected to include the actual grade in his email.... In any case, students (and many parents) are so anxious when it comes to grades, that the actual learning suffers. Something is clearly wrong with a system that holds grades above learning. Even professional educators can get caught up in this problem, as recent scandals regarding "score adjustments" on standardized tests have shown. "When the worth of a person is connected to scores, and when those who don’t do well are publicly ridiculed, cheating happens.... We shouldn’t be surprised when teachers working in similar climates make similar choices" (Starnes, 2011, p. 71).

Starnes, B.A. (2011). Superstars, cheating, and surprises. Phi Delta Kappa 93
(1), 70-71. Retrieved from

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