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Thompson: Why Do We Still Give Grades?

GradesI wonder how many Baby Boomers are like me and can't comprehend that it is 2013 and we still have bubble-in testing.

Then again -- and I know it would be a smaller number who agree with me on this --  I am also curious about the number of my peers who are dismayed that we still have letter grades. 

Chris Couch's Huffington Post, Grades Do More Harm Than Good, condemns the damage done by grades. Crouch explains why he "can't believe that we realistically put any stock in what they measure and what they communicate."

Of course, he is correct on the harm done to educational values because "many kids feel pressured to cut corners, sacrifice ethics, and take easier courses, all in an effort to achieve better grades instead of better learning."

We still have grades because better options aren't available.  But, we haven't tried very hard to develop better alternatives.  On the contrary, schools have changed our priorities from learning to competition and keeping score.

As we continue this outmoded and reductionistic value system, we should remember that grades are inherently subjective results of political processes. We give them because it is our job to put some number and letter next to each student's name. We shouldn't delude ourselves into believing it is a fair or constructive process.

- JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.   


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I had a professor in my undergraduate degree who taught his grade 11 physics students without any grades - their evaluation was completely based on feedback and mastery of skills in a set list, either they could do the skill well, complete the basic skill to meet mastery, or not complete the skill. Unfortunately, he was unable to continue this in grade 12 because of pressure from the universities for a grade to base entrance on - a true shame.

Grades indeed put a limit on, not only the child, but the young adults that are in college. By giving out letter grades, that's simply saying "This is as far as you go." Even if they recieve an A, their work might be worth far more than that in the future. Research papers, assignments, essays can all have local to global changes. However, since they are reduced to A's through F's, it is merely a grade that you need in order to pass the class.

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