Monday, October 28, 2013

Grades, Grades, Grades!

Grades...when you think of that one word, what comes to mind? Yesterday when we walked into Rogate, there was one word up on the board on a PowerPoint slide: Grades. There was an immediate reaction from all of us when we saw that word, as we all began to discuss our current grades, tests we were worried about, assignments that we hadn't done well on, etc.  Those first five minutes of class showed how obsessed all of us have grown over grades.  I personally feel that my entire life revolves around my grades, and that my whole future depends on them.  They are so important to me, and they always come first before everything else that I do (sports, friends, etc.).  We have grown up being taught to constantly stress and worry about grades.  We have become so accustomed to focusing on not the concepts and ideas that we are being taught, but instead the numbers that we are being given. 
In my eyes, grades serve several different purposes.  Grades are a way for teachers, parents, and the whole school overall to be able to easily track and monitor the progress of a student's learning.  Grades are represented with numbers, and even letters.  The numbers are out of a 100 point scale, while the letters are used from A-F.  They act as a shortcut for teachers, allowing them to only having to quickly glance over a student's grades, and see their overall "achievement" in that class.  Grades can also act as a motivation for students.  If teachers motivate their students by saying they will receive good grades if they study and prepare for a test, then that could result in many more students studying for the assessment, leading to higher scores.  Overall, grades allow teachers, parents, etc. to be able to quickly decide whether a student is advanced proficient, proficient, or below proficient in a certain subject.  We have used this system of grading for many, many years, and now the question is rising after several studies being done on this topic: how accurate does this system truly represent learning and knowledge?

Why is this system of grading so commonly used in basically every school throughout the world? You might say that it is because the system is easy and simple for teachers to use.  Numbers can be easily averaged together to find an overall grade, and can be easily calculated.  Numbers can be used for several different reasons, and are incredibly important in today's world.  Nonetheless, when it comes to describing and showing the progress and achievement of someone's learning, I personally believe that words always outweigh numbers.  Every year I look forward to the teachers comments that are posted on PowerSchool.  Even though it is only two sentences the most that is written, I still really enjoy reading through the comments.  I don't think that a lot of teachers realize how important and meaningful these comments are to me, and to most likely many other students too.  Those few words and possibly sentences are one of the only times that teachers can express their students' learning and achievement in words rather than numbers.  I personally would rather have words used to place me somewhere or classify me, rather than numbers, or just one letter. 

Even though in all systems of grading there are always numbers involved somehow, I feel that our current system of grading is not a fair or accurate way to measure learning and knowledge. In the traditional system of grading, instead of students being evaluated on how well they truly understand a specific concept or skill, they are graded on how well they understand the entire topic.  This is how it is with every subject.  There is absolutely no way to tell, with just a two digit number, what specific concepts of that one topic the student has mastered, and which ones they still have trouble with. Last year in English, I once received a low grade on a very difficult quiz that we took.  This brought my grade down to a 90%, almost a B.  I worked so hard to bring my grade up so that it would not sink down to a B, and I eventually did bring it up.  That shows how just because of that one quiz, my entire grade could have been brought down one letter.  For some students that could be the difference between a B and a C, or a C and a D.  
Standards-based grading system...when most people hear this they think of the childish system of grading used for little kids back in elementary school.  Well, things are now beginning to change.  This system of grading is becoming more and more common in schools all across the country.  Rather than ranking you on your overall understanding of a certain subject (Science, English, etc.)the standards-based grading system breaks down each individual topic into all of the concepts that make it up.  It separates the subject into all of the skills that the students need to master by the end of the year.  Once that topic is broken down, the students are given a rating from 0-4 on their understanding of each specific concept.  Your overall grade is not effected by the skills that you still need help with, as it is based off of the number that appears the most among all of the concepts.  This is much more accurate than the traditional system because rather than teachers, parents, etc. measuring the knowledge and progress of students with just one number grade, there are several different grades that allow you to see which specific skills the student has mastered, and which ones they continue to have trouble with. 
I personally believe that the best system to use would be the standards-based grading system.  The standards-based grading system is accurate and fair.  Teachers who are monitoring your progress can clearly see which specific concepts you still need help understanding, and how well you truly understand a subject.  They can easily see which skills you have mastered, and in what areas you are advanced proficient, or proficient in.  The standards-based grading system allows you to maintain a high grade, that is not effected by the low scores on the concepts you don't understand.  This system of grading is an accurate and efficient way to measure knowledge, achievement, and learning. 
I truly hope that the standards-based grading system is something that we are all going to be seeing around more often in the future.  We have used the traditional grading system for many, many years, and it is time for a change; not just for the nation, but for the entire world as well.

1 comment:

  1. Marissa, I really enjoyed reading this post. Your honesty here is crucial. I know how important your grades are to you (and how hard you work) and it was refreshing to see you reflect on how our current system is flawed.