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Forget the numbers; you pass or you fail

Students should receive a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ rather than typical number grades in their classes, as numbers should not define a student.

For many, grades below 90s are just not good enough for themselves or parents. Students spend hours obsessing over assignments because they are afraid of their grades coming down.

If students receive a grade that is pass or fail, they can spend more time discovering how to improve rather than focusing on improving the number.

In a pass/fail system, a teacher asks, “Did the student demonstrate the abilities required by the curriculum?” If so, then the student receives a pass; if not, a fail.

Furthermore, if a student demonstrates a higher understanding of the content, a teacher can still place the student in higher-level classes. These classes would follow the same ideas as they do now: harder content and faster-paced learning. Although the class may be harder to “pass,” those who succeed will have demonstrated an even better understanding of the subject, just how honors and AP classes work now.

It seems that one issue of teaching without grades is that colleges look at a student’s GPA. However, more colleges are beginning to look at the overall student: portfolios, essays, recommendations, work, community involvement, extracurriculars, and more. In eliminating grades, colleges will be forced to look at how-well rounded a student is, along with other accomplishments, rather than judging him or her by a number. With number grades, colleges compare students from different schools unfairly due to different variables within a classroom.

Freshman Fiona McIntyre said, “Teachers always grade based on what they think is good. What if another teacher thinks my work is excellent, but my own teacher thinks that same work is poor. Most grades as we get into higher level classes are just opinions. Rubrics are what guide the teacher’s expectations and stuff, but they could just as easily interpret the categories differently. If we can show that we understand what we are learning, then we should pass the class. And that is exactly what happens now, so why do we need numbers? So we are more comparable to others? It’s an unfair comparison because of the differences in classes.”

Grades are poor communicators and indicators of a student’s growth and learning. Many different variables make up a student’s grade like assessments, teachers, school, district, and state. Courses from school to school are generally not the same. Comparing these numerical grades from class to class and school to school is unfair to the students.

Number grades also eliminate the opportunity for self-evaluation. A class driven by feedback and discussion rather than percentages in a grade book allows learning to become a conversation.

Like in work-places, a student should be given the ability to discuss their performance in the class. Many students see a grade in a grade book, are okay with it, and move on. When what they see satisfies them enough, a student will not turn to a teacher to look into how to improve.

Grades impact a student’s desire to learn out of raw curiosity. Most students’ goals are number based. They want to see a 90 or above in a grade book or want a B on their test, rather than setting their goals to learn and become educated on something they are genuinely interested in.

By stressing the importance of grades, students are more focused on the end result rather than how they get there. In order to achieve grades that are deemed acceptable, many kids resort to cheating, doing the bare minimum, and even not challenging themselves with harder courses.

Freshman Nadia Zamorski said, “My parents have always pushed me to get like high A’s. They would give me money for good grades as an incentive. I am not really sure how motivated I would have turned out without rewards like that. Some kids just do not get that. Not all kids have parents who can be their cheerleader to help them earn those high grades. If we just had fail or pass, I feel like it would be easier for kids to learn and improve because it would feel more personal with more feedback rather than your parents pushing you to get a 98. You would work for compliments and growth.”

Measuring a student’s learning abilities with numbers is impractical and harmful. Students begin to focus so much on the grades they are earning that classes become a burden and students begin to resent having to learn new content, as they will be harshly judged on their ability to comprehend, and then be assigned a number for their worth.

Overall, grades do not accurately measure a student’s intelligence. As Edward de Bono said, “Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.”

How often do you feel you receive a grade that does not fairly reflect your work?

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