When you think about grades, do warm, fuzzy feelings wash over you? Of course not. Most likely a wave of fear or at least stoic determination rolls over you.
Grades seem to rule high school students’ lives. Quite frankly, they rule them all throughout school. Your path in middle school is dependent on your elementary grades, your path in high school is dependent on your middle school grades, and the range of colleges you can get to get accepted into is dependent on your high school grades. On top of all that, they are a major source of anxiety.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, at least to the extent that it currently does. We could change the way the grades are administered. Instead of having finalized midyear semester grades that offer students few chances to improve their grades or inquire about why they received the grade they did, send out midyear check-ins with projected grades. That way, if a student manages to improve their understanding of the subject to an A quality, they can end the year with an A. Include qualitative comments such as attitude and dedication as part of the grade.
Of course, people who are fans of the grading system as it is will point out that before there were standardized means of evaluating students, it was impossible to compare a student’s performance at one institution with a student’s performance somewhere else.
However, there has been very little research conducted to determine the reliability or validity of using grades for state accountability.
There are multiple reasons and theories on this, but the most agreed upon reason is the obvious discrepancy between the one-dimensional way grades characterize students and the multidimensional humans the students actually are. A way to combat this specific feedback would be to replace letter grades with or at least include personal feedback, in order to be more constructive.
There has also been evidence that letter grades may actually harm students.
For instance, everyone wants the best grades (okay maybe there are some rebels who truly don’t care), which is admirable. However, this has resulted in the end goal for many students to be to get the best grades possible. If that’s the end goal, do you know what isn’t?
With the goal of school shifted away from learning and more towards an abstract letter, students are more likely to choose studying techniques like cramming and rote memorization instead of choosing healthier and more organic ways to internalize topics.
Just as a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to shame people who value high grades or even those who work exceptionally hard to maintain a stellar GPA. I think those are noble goals, and I myself put lots of effort into GPA preservation, as I like to call it. It is the system, not its actors in which I take fault.
Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The same logic applies to grades. Often, grades miss a critical aspect of the student, the spark inside them that paints their character and makes them special, leading to school children stressing over a system that’s failing them.
Overall, the education system is a work in progress and will probably need more research to perfect. But the anxiety surrounding grades should definitely be a place to start improvement.