A great deal of my high school experience was defined by letters and numbers on paper. I did my fair share of living, but it was undeniable that the experience I had was immensely different from those portrayed on television. While nothing seemed out of the ordinary for a long time, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I began to learn and go to class of my own accord. Grades were replaced by pass/fail and suddenly learning, despite all my qualms regarding online school, became a bit more fun. Something I had a bit more control over. Of course, such a change lends itself to questioning the system that was previously in place.
It is no surprise that a system that bases a students’ worth on something as one-dimensional as grades is lacking in many ways. Such a means of evaluation was always going to fall short. Students are multifaceted in their abilities and strengths, with book smarts only being one small component. In this way, any form of evaluation that focuses only on one aspect of intelligence would paint an incomplete picture of a student’s abilities. However, it is the problems that arise from this that can be extraordinarily detrimental.
Upholding grades as the one way students can demonstrate their capabilities in school can form a connection between self-worth and academics. Through this connection, the system can sometimes cause students to feel as though low grades are a reflection of their character and something that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Through this lens, it is no surprise that some students turn to cheating. I have always found it a bit strange that of all the infractions that occur in school, I had to complete a module, quiz or contract on plagiarism in every class. Despite its continued prevalence and the fact that its risk has significantly risen, no one seems has stopped to ask why.
Why do people cheat? For many, it isn’t laziness. For some, it seems the only option when a bad grade feels like a crime and no matter what they seem to do, their grades do not reflect their understanding of the material. Utilizing grades so heavily causes students to focus not on learning or honing their abilities but mastering testing and producing specific results. All too often, tests are based on regurgitation rather than actual learning. I have met so many gifted and intelligent people who often received ”bad” grades that made them feel inferior. How utterly heartbreaking it is when the system that is supposed to foster a love of learning causes remarkable people to feel stupid.
A grade-based system also seems to affect the relationship between teachers and students. I have seen many students argue for points on tests with teachers. Of course, when grades are so vital to a person’s future why would they not? In this way, the relationship between teacher and student becomes more transactional rather than a mentorship. Additionally, all these reasons do not even delve into the research done on more successful forms of assessments.
The truth remains blatant that grades are not an accurate measure of a student’s capabilities. Instead, they cause students to become beholden to something that is no true measure of their capabilities. Of course, changing the system cannot occur in a day, but perhaps it could begin with grades not being used to assess children in middle and elementary school. It could also begin with reinforcing how one’s worth is tied not to the numbers on their report card but their many and varied strengths.