In one of my previous articles, I wrote about why there should not be finals at the end of the semester and instead there should be a final project. This article is somewhat a continuation of that piece because I think that grades should be gotten rid of altogether and there are many reasons for why I think it would be beneficial to students if this ever were to happen.
I read an article in the Washington Post which said that, “Grades encourage students to focus on the external assessment of a single person — or a small group of people — rather than on true exploration and learning (Harris-Perry).” Now keeping this in mind isn’t that what school is supposed to be about? Learning? The Post also said, “What would happen if students were free to experience classes, retain information and build connections without fear that their futures hung in the balance of a single imperfect product? (Harris-Perry)” Now I don’t know about you, but I think that is an excellent question. What would classes be like if students were actually able to enjoy their classes without the fear of failing them? Wouldn’t they be more likely to engage in class? And I think that is something teachers and students everywhere need to consider. By considering this, they would come to realize that performance, motivation, interest, and even self-esteem would improve. For instance, the Post said that “students often feel deflated when their best efforts lead to only mediocre grades (Harris-Perry).” And I actually agree with this statement because there have been plenty of times when I have felt I deserved a higher grade on something I worked extremely hard on and did not get the grade I felt I deserved (and isn’t a grade based on opinion anyway—especially in the liberal arts?). Just think about it.
Because of this, grades restrict students from actually trying something challenging. If a student is focused on their future and knows that the only way to have a good future is through the act of getting good grades, then they will be less likely to try something out of their comfort zone and do something that challenges them, which isn’t that the whole point of learning—to try something new and challenge yourself? And, unfortunately, grades hinder that.
Going along with this idea since grades don’t allow much room for experimentation, what are grades good predictors of? What do they predict? Is there really anything that they tell us, because in all actuality they “are not good predictors of accomplishment, curiosity, or success (Harris-Perry).” Take for example, George Bernard Shaw, a successful playwright, critic, and political activist who did not do well in school. Did that make him any less successful? He even said, “Schools and schoolmasters—are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys. (Wikipedia)” He also, “considered the standardized curricula useless, deadening to the spirit and stifling to the intellect. (Wikipedia)” Which is similar to what I had mentioned earlier with regards to not being able to try something out of your comfort zone due to fear of getting a bad grade.
So some of you may be thinking what would take the place of grades and what would be the incentive to come to class? Well, the Post says, “Without grades, we would be forced to offer detailed, critical assessments of students’ strengths and weaknesses, both to them and to future schools and employers. We would need to pay closer attention to their process and their progress rather than just their final products (Harris-Perry).” Therefore, by being assessed on your level of strengths and weaknesses and the process you are learning in the class, it will be a better judge of what the student is good at and if that subject suits them. By taking that challenging class because there are no grades, the student may realize that during the learning process of this challenging class that it may not be what interests them or fits their learning style. Thus, “grades should be replaced by meaningful narrative feedback, which helps students understand what learning outcomes have or have not been mastered. Feedback also encourages learning, while grades only stifle it” (TED). The incentive, consequently, is learning because you want to and to find out what you want to do with your life. Learning should not be measured, but rather it should be discussed, shared, and evaluated because it is an ongoing process that should never end and some colleges agree with this notion and do not have a grading system (TED). For example, Evergreen College in Washington State doesn’t use grades, but instead uses an evaluation process that measures if they learned what was expected of them. So by the time they finish a course, they have a list of expectations that they are evaluated on in order to gauge their process, which varies according to the class. Evergreen says that, “The Expectations address skills, habits of intellect, and traits of character that are central to an active, productive life as an individual, as a citizen, and as a member of the many overlapping communities that constitute the context of an individual’s life in our society” (Marshall, etal.)
Therefore, school will still be school, but teachers would assess your strengths and weaknesses and the effort you put into their class thus creating a more stress free and learning-oriented atmosphere.