Exploring the Purpose of Grades
P1. The purposes of grades in education systems is to measure how well students are learning by creating motivation for students. If we take a closer look, grades can have the opposite effect on both of their main purposes. If grades are supposed to measure learning, but they actually take away from learning, then grades really accomplish nothing. They are also supposed to create motivation to learn, but actually end up just creating motivation to earn good grades, especially in college. Without any type of grading system in place for grades K-12, we wouldn’t know how well students are making progress in the classroom or understanding the topics that are being taught to them; however, many times the focus of students is not on the material they are learning with our current grading system. Grades measure the ability to get good grades, and little else.
P2. According to James D. Allen states in vol. 78 of The Clearing House’s Grades as Valid Measures of Academic Achievement of Classroom Learning, that the main goal classrooms have is to gain academic knowledge in a particular subject. By grading students’ work, teachers get to see who is absorbing the information they teach. Kyle Spencer states in Education Digest’s Standards-Based Grading that “grades were designed to see which students should be promoted to the next level.” Recording grades is a way to this. Writing grades on a academic report displays the student’s academic achievement over a course of study, and compares students to one another so we know where the bar is supposed to be set for the entire class. Since a written record of grades is recorded for each student, then guidance counselors, other teachers, parents, employers, and colleges have access to see what level of knowledge students have in a certain subject. Several different grading systems exist, and the one used commonly today is the ineffective.
P3. The system currently used in most schools is the traditional A-F letter scale system, where students are rewarded with an A for satisfying the teacher’s standards, and those who do not satisfy standards are left with an F, leaving the work in between with a B,C, or D. Each subject they take earns one letter. This system often takes missing assignments, homework, attendance, compliance to rules, and participation into consideration. For example, let’s say that a 7th grader finishes with a B+ in a science class. We don’t know how much of that grade is determined by factors other than academic knowledge, which demonstrates how students easily manipulate the system. We don’t know whether that student actually absorbed almost all of the course material, gathered just enough material to make good arguments, had perfect attendance and completed all assignments but didn’t do particularly well on tests, or gathered little and argues poorly but did better than other classmates who are even worse. Allen notes that some teachers believe that “effort, student conduct, and attitude” should influence final grades, since they want students to be well-rounded. Each teacher sets their own standard to what they perceive is a good student. Yes, they still measure academic knowledge, but include other factors that are not relevant to that knowledge. This can potentially leave grading practices unpredictable. Sometimes important life decisions are made based off a student’s grade, so it’s critical that grades are predictable and valid.
P4. One important life decision that is directly impacted by grades is picking a college to go to. Corrine Ruff states in Why Do Colleges Still Use Grades? that grades are a “quick and dirty way of summarizing student outcomes for parents, graduate schools, and employers. ” The main factor colleges look at when deciding whether to accept or decline students is their GPA. Colleges want to see how students performed in subjects to see if they will be a good fit for their school. This provides motivation for students to achieve high grades. If students want to get into their dream college, then they need to work hard. The belief behind using grades as a motivation that is that using grades as consequences motivates students to want to do well. If students earn good grades, they will be rewarded, and if they don’t, there will be negative consequences. By placing so much pressure on students to earn a high GPA, learning is not a main priority for students. They don’t focus on how they can understand complex topics, but more on how they can get an A on their next test or assignment. If grades are supposed to be used as motivation to get into a good school or impress your parents, then why are they still used in college?
p5. Corrine Ruff states in Why Do Colleges Still Use Grades?, that grades originated in the 19th century in an industry-focused economy. Employers wanted to hire people who understood how to process things, so using a traditional method of grading was efficient. In our current economy, jobs are more information based. Instructors and employers are more focused on what information students learn and what they can do with that knowledge, which is why employers aren’t necessarily concerned with GPAs. They know that a GPA doesn’t define what a student has learned. A more modernized system, especially for colleges, might be beneficial.
p6. Most college students aren’t as concerned with their grades as they were in grade school and high school because the motivation factor is gone. They already got into college, so they don’t need a high GPA. They are adults now, so approval from their parents is less concerning to them. They also that know employers usually don’t look at GPAs. College students are more self-motivated. They are paying for their education, so not taking advantage of it would be a complete waste of money; therefore, actually wanting to learn becomes more prominent. College students want to learn the information and skills that will help to land them a successful job, and grades can actually get in the way of that. Ruff notes that, “grades actually get in the way of student learning. When professors cap the number of top-end grades, he argues, students enter into a fierce competition with one another, and so their interest in learning the actual material wanes.” So why not change the system? Making a more modernized system that measures mastery in each subject specifically, and maybe employers will be interested in looking at grades.
Allen, James D. “Grades as Valid Measures of Academic Achievement of Classroom Learning.” Clearing House, vol. 78, no. 5, May/June 2005, pp. 218-223.
Ruff, Corinne. “Why Do Colleges Still Use Grades?.” Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 62, no. 26, 11 Mar. 2016, p. 1
Spencer, Kyle. “Standards-Based Grading.” Education Digest 78.3 (2012): 4-10. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
I like your work, Aeks. I hope I’ve been positive enough often enough to assure you that you’re doing well and that I’m a fan. But openings are hard, and often we get in our own way. I know I seem to be spending too much time on introductions, but if readers don’t get to P2, we’re pretty much wasting our time writing essays.
Sentence 1. You give grades two jobs in your first sentence: 1) to create motivation, and 2) to measure achievement. When you say grades “have the opposite effect” we don’t know which objective they’ve failed.
Sentence 2. Now you briefly abandon the job of motivation and settle on measurement. Their “purpose is to measure learning.” But then you suggest that they might undermine achievement (not hinder measurement), so grades still have both jobs. You rhetorically suggest that they accomplish nothing, apparently because they fail at both jobs.
Sentence 3. Now you claim that we certainly need SOME KIND of grade to measure achievement, but conclude that grades (at least the kind we use now) don’t measure actual learning, just the ability to earn grades.
There’s a perfectly reasonable thesis in there. Grades are designed to measure learning. Like octane ratings for gasoline, they are objective. But gas doesn’t care how it’s graded. Gas station owners do; so do drivers. Higher-graded gas is valued higher, priced higher. Students care how they’re graded because they want to command a higher price (on college admission rankings or later in entry-level salaries). The subjectivity in the grading system creates opportunity for false readings. Teachers value some components of academic activity more highly than others; and students figure out how to exploit that they can achieve higher grades in ways that don’t result in learning.
I think you mean all of that. Could you say so more directly?
I’d appreciate your reaction, Aeks.
Overall, this is very strong, Aeks. You engage in high-level reasoning here.
1. It shifts, though—don’t you think?—from “grades measure something, but not necessarily learning,” to “grades are effective motivators in high school, but not so much in college”? You could probably manage to address both premises in one essay, but to do so you’ll want to be clearer that you have those two goals.
2. You make another shift, from grades primarily measure “absorption of material (the ability to memorize and recall information)” to “how they can manipulate and employ information (since recall has been replaced by searchability).”
3. When you make your third shift, from “grades measure something, but not necessarily learning,” to “grades are the enemy of learning,” things get really interesting, but too late for you to develop that idea. I hope you’ll take it up in your Causal Argument.
I see the influence of our conversation about grades in your argument here, Aeks, so I’m encouraged to continue to make suggestions.
You seem to think, understandably, that some paragraphs can be spent on background. They don’t need to be argumentative. I disagree. Every paragraph needs a particular, explicit argumentative purpose.
P3, for example, makes a very important point. No observer can tell from the B+ whether the recipient 1) absorbed almost all of the available course material, or 2) gathered enough material to make good arguments, or 3) attended every class and asked good questions but didn’t do particularly well on tests and missed no assignments, or 4) gathered little and argues poorly but outshines her classmates who are even worse.
In P3, you should be USING that ambiguity of grades to demonstrate that students who know how to GET GRADES can manipulate the subjective nature of grading to earn B+s without having to absorb much knowledge.
Make sense? Again, I would appreciate your reaction, Aeks.
The feedback makes sense. I realize I shift from what grading measures to why grades aren’t effective in college. I did this because I felt like I explained enough already about what grades were supposed to accomplish. I think I can address both of these in my essay but I will just have to more clear about it in my introduction, along with making my introduction more clear in general. Expanding on the idea of how to students know how to get grades without having to absorb much knowledge will definitely make my essay stronger. In my casual argument I think it’s a good idea to talk about how “grades are the enemy.”
Excellent. Thank you. (cAUSal, not cASUal).
I fixed my introduction so that it explains how grades fail both of their main purposes of creating motivation and measuring learning, instead of just just explaining how they fail to measure learning. I did this by stating that grades actually get in the way of learning, and that they only provide motivation to get good grades, not to learn. I also added in that grades should only be used in for k-12, and that they get in the way of learning especially in college to make it more clear that I will be discussing college in my essay too.
I expanded more on the point that “grades are unpredictable” in p3.