Criticism of Grades

Grading has recently been under attack with people bringing strong criticism against the practice. Some schools have even stopped using grades altogether. In this post, we will look at problems with grading as well as alternatives.

It Depends on the Subject

The weakness of grading is often seen much more clearly in subjects that have more of a subjective nature to them from the Social sciences and humanities such as English, History, or Music. Subjects from the hard sciences such as biology, math, and engineering are more objective in nature. If a student states that 2 + 2 = 5 there is little left to persuasion or critical thinking to influence the grade.

However, when it comes to judging thinking or musical performance it is much more difficult to assess this without bringing the subjectivity of opinion. This is not bad as a teacher should be an expert in their domain but it still brings an arbitrary unpredictability to the system of grading that is difficult to avoid.

Returning to the math problem, if a student stats 2 +2 =  4 this answer is always right whether the teacher likes the student or not. However, an excellent historical essay on slavery can be graded poorly if the history teacher has issues with the thesis of the student. To assess the essay requires subjective though into the quality of the student’s writing and subjectivity means that the assessment cannot be objective.

Obsession of Students

Many students become obsess and almost worship the grades they receive. This often means that the focus becomes more about getting an ‘A’ than on actually learning. This means that the students take no-risk in their learning and conform strictly to the directions of the teacher. Mindless conformity is not a sign of future success.

There are many comments on the internet about the differences between ‘A’ and ‘C’ students. How ‘A’ students are conformist and ‘C’ students are innovators. The point is that the better the academic performance of a student the better they are at obeying orders and not necessarily on thinking independently.

Alternatives to Grades

There are several alternatives to grading. One of the most common is Pass/fail. Either the student passes the course or they do not. This is common at the tertiary level especially in highly subjective courses such as writing a thesis or dissertation. In such cases, the student meets the “mysterious” standard or they do not.

Another alternative is has been the explosion in the use of gamification. As the student acquires the badges, hit points, etc. it is evidence of learning. Of course, this idea is applied primarily at the K-12 level but it the concept of gamification seems to be used in almost all of the game apps available on cellphones as well as many websites.

Lastly, observation is another alternative. In this approach, the teacher makes weekly observations of each student. These observations are then used to provide feedback for the students. Although time-consuming this is a way to support students without grades.

Conclusion

As long as there is education there must be some sort of way to determine if students are meeting expectations. Grades are the current standard. As with any system, grades have their strengths and weaknesses. With this in mind, it is the responsibility of teachers to always search for ways to improve how students are assessed.

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