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Does Our Grading System Suck?

We live within an educational system that passes students who receive A’s through D’s. As long as the student’s grade card is stamped with a “D” or higher he or she moves on to the next level. This “moving on” idea is only sufficient for education. Take this same idea and apply it anywhere else and it sounds crazy. For instance, what if you are an employer and there are four people sitting in the lobby waiting for those great interview questions from you? The first one sits down and blurts out, “I’m a ‘D’ worker ready to service your employees.” You would not even ask the second question. Instead, you would kindly escort the person to the elevator, press the elevator button and kindly assist the person through the doorway. The person who will give you “C” work might get an entire interview, but who wants an average worker? The “B” worker you could enjoy talking to, but at the end of the day what can the person contribute to the business apart from keeping the status quo? Now, the “A” worker is the one that you would show around the business, show the person the great software programs that run the company, the great people skills that everyone has, how the benefits are the best, and how Starbucks is within walking distance. We can take this idea and apply it to relationships, sports and hygiene. Everyone will more than likely choose the “A” work over any other.

Another negative is that letter grading also labels students. This is harmful for students who consistently receive low grades, but also is harmful for students who receive all “A’s.” I have a student who is accustomed to receiving all “A’s” by her previous teachers. She was headed for a “B” in my class and went berserk. Her only focus was how to get the “A” versus reviewing the material for what she had not learned. The learning went out the widow, but what was center stage in her mind was how she could not under any circumstances ever, ever get a “B.” This is not healthy. I explained to her my concerns and she understood, but did this not help that fact that she did not have an “A.”

A solution to this is to have a mean for learning any objective which would also serve as the primary source for assessment. The mean represents all that is needed to master the particular objective. This is similar to what is already implemented in certification assessments. The process I am suggesting goes one step further to remove the percentage and only focus on areas of improvement.

For this process high performers may deviate above the mean and low performers who deviate below the mean are able to identify the areas of learning which have not yet been mastered. This process means that instead of having wrong answers the assessment will list the areas of improvement. So, no more wrong answers only areas of improvements. How a student perceives their assessment is very important. If a student can see what he or she needs to improve, it is better than seeing wrong answers. A positive approach to how a student receives their score is always better than what a letter grade brings to the assessment process.

This method is nothing new. The Art Institute of Chicago uses no grading system only portfolios and students receive corrections by way of reviews. A couple of years ago USA today, covered a debate regarding grades and the reformations that were taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Principal Debbie Brockett instituted a policy of not letting teachers issue a score less than 50 to students who were already failing. This was designed to offer better grades to low achievers. The F literally turned into a D. The teachers protested, and Brockett ended up sending her system to the sidelines. However, it brought up the single most important debate to teachers, how to reform the grading system.The Indianapolis Star, recently reported on the issues they were having with grading reform. The school system in Louisiana, is re-evaluating their grading system as well. They Louisiana system would like to  model their assessment system after that used by the private schools in that state.  In 1976, a study entitled “Wad-Ja-Get” debunks the ideas of basing education on grades alone. Even decades ago, we were devoted to finding another method to American grading.

Taking this approach and going back to the interview office all the interviewees have a shot. Instead of the label, there is only what needs improvement. As long as the improvement list is not too long, the interviewee still has room to focus on their assets and how his or her improvements will not hinder the work on the job.

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Brian Southers

About Brian Southers

Brian Southers is about developing and implementing strategies that provide social change. Tackle problems from a human perspective.

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