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The Negative Effects of the Grading System - Essay Example

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The traditional grading scale, A through F, is a time-honored standard for measuring student performance. It is utilized in the vast majority of schools, from kindergarten through graduate school. Letter grades represent an intuitive and convenient way to judge the caliber of work product that results from the efforts of any given student…
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The Negative Effects of the Grading System
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Download file to see previous pages While each individual has perceptions of what an A or a C or an F should mean with regard to student achievement, the reality is that these measures are often applied inconsistently and arbitrarily. Letter grades often become efforts to shoehorn subjective learning assessments into an objective measurement system that does not necessarily lend itself to being applied in that way. Further, such grades can be applied with relativism, such as in the context of a bell curve whereby students are given a grade that may not truly reflect their mastery of the subject matter, simply because of their juxtaposition to other students in the class.
Ultimately, there are several potentially negative effects of the traditional letter grading scale that warrant a wholesale review of how student performance should be appropriately measured under various circumstances. To be sure, the traditional system may be the best system for some situations, namely where students are objectively tested and scored on the material. However, education is largely becoming a more complex, subjective and nuanced endeavor in a world that is rarely black and white. This paper will assess the appropriateness of the traditional letter grade system for measuring student success in various types of learning environments, and evaluate some of its alternatives. It will also discuss the potential negative consequences of applying the traditional objective letter grade system where it may not be appropriate to do so.
The Meaning of Letter Grades
A's and B's no longer mean what they used to, largely because they have become the predominant grade given. For example, a recent analysis of grades in Indiana public schools shows 75% of all grades given were either A's or B's, with only 10% being D's or F's (Stockman, 2007, para. 3). That leaves 15% of grades being C, which intuitively would be the median grade. Such an uneven grade distribution begs the question of whether grade inflation is at play, or whether the vast majority of students are really earning these high grades. According to Matthew Hartley, assistant professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, "It's important to remember that grade inflation is a shift in grades without a corresponding improvement in performance. . . If your institutions are becoming more competitive and selective, it may be that they are admitting better prepared students who are earning A's, which means there is no inflation" (para. 7).
Largely due to this uncertainty about how well deserved a grade actually is, letter grades are becoming increasingly irrelevant as students move toward the transition from school to the workforce. As George Kuh of Indiana University asserts, "If you talk with business and industry leaders, they'll tell you grades don't matter . . . What you really want to know is if they're flexible, adaptable, can they work with other people" (para. 30). Thus, it seems a different, more subjective measurement of student performance may be in order if the goal is to help students succeed as working professionals. An approach that evaluates students on their ability to apply what is learned in a way that makes them functional contributors to society would likely be more valuable to ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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