The American education system is far from perfect. There are schools deemed by the state as failing, districts that task teachers with “teaching for the test,” a lack of proper funding and crumbling buildings. In 2017, the nation ranked 38th out of 71 countries for math. It ranked 24th for science. Health and education combined, the U.S. was ranked sixth in the world in 1990 — 21 spots above where it is now.
Suffice it to say, the American education system has problems.
But rather than tackle the actual challenge of educating our youth, there are some who believe what should be changed is the way we grade students. In abolishing the A-F letter grade system, proponents would like to see a system where students are either “exceeding, meeting, developing or emerging,” according to a recent iHeartRadio-Houston report. The argument: Traditional report cards are ineffective in communicating with parents about where their children are in their education.
Tom Guskey, a professor at the University of Kentucky who studies grading systems and advises schools and school districts on them, told Quartz in August 2017 that the traditional grading system combines “way too many factors into one, including students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort and behavior.”
“If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet, and exercise into a single number or mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable,” he wrote. “How could the combination of such diverse measures yield anything meaningful?”
Proponents of change also argue that while grades appear to be objective and precise, they can be subjective. They argue grades can pit students against each other, stoking competitiveness between those compelled to win.
Well, what’s wrong with a little competitiveness? Competition is what challenges us to better ourselves. Yes, there can be an emotional toll when we fall short of a challenge, but a part of intellectual and emotional growth is recognizing where we failed, what we could do better and then doing that.
And how would a new grading system that finds students “exceeding” or “developing” be any less subjective than letter grades? If one student easily completes complex mathematics in their head while another struggles through each step on paper, which would the teacher find “exceeding” for effort? If anything, the proposed system would make grades more subjective.
The American education system is flawed, and it’s not doing for students what it should. But there are other areas of it we should fix — funding, infrastructure, unnecessary testing — before we scrap the A-F grade system.