Grades: Do the ends justify the means? 

Grades dictate our success in school and how future employers view our worth when leaving college. The grading system used in most places in the world incentivizes end result over the learning process, however, leaving something to be desired. Illustration by Krista Mitchell/The Daily Campus.

Everyone knows that grades are an integral part of school; however, many often wonder whether or not grades are actually beneficial. On one hand, they are a way to hold students accountable for doing their work, incentivize them to do well in school and monitor and assess their work — all to ensure that they get something out of their education. Another completely valid argument is that, with grades, students aren’t learning to learn; they are learning to get a good grade, and in doing so the entire purpose of education, to learn, is compromised. Yet, while some may think that education without grades will be improved, I think that this reality would be much worse than we think. 

Even with grades, there are students who simply don’t want to learn. They don’t care about school, and they don’t mind just getting by. It is quite simply unrealistic to expect students, specifically in elementary, middle and high school to be self-motivated. Even the students who are naturally inclined to learn and do well in school have subjects that they don’t like or would rather not do. To expect students to naturally have a drive to do well in school that isn’t present with a grading system is simply unrealistic. If someone isn’t willing to do something when there’s a reward for doing it, and a punishment for failing to do so, they are less likely to do so without this system of rewards and punishments. 

It is my position that grades are an essential motivator for students in schools, and at the end of the day the means aren’t relevant, only the ends. A teacher may feel that students don’t care about learning, and are only doing so for the grade, but at the end of the day who cares. It doesn’t matter why a student is learning, just the fact that they are getting something out of their education. If grades drive students to perform tasks that help them learn, then who cares if students wanted to learn in the first place. They’re still getting the education that schools are trying to give. This doesn’t at all mean that schools shouldn’t try to make learning an experience students enjoy, nor that they shouldn’t make efforts to motivate students to be excited about learning. Rather, it is a given that not every student will have that mindset. Instilling an appreciation for education and making school and learning as enjoyable as possible are all very important things.  Yet, we must recognize that when an appreciation of learning is absent, grades are a safeguard that ensure students get something out of their education. This isn’t to say whether or not grades are the most effective motivator, but rather that it is a motivator, and keeping some motivator is better than not having any at all. 

That being said, many may argue that the act of getting good grades may not directly correlate with actually learning the content. In fact, “grades often fail to provide reliable information about student learning.” But in this case, I still stand by the fact that we shouldn’t simply get rid of grades. Grades still act as a motivator, so the more optimal solution would be to make efforts to make sure grades are an accurate assessment of what a student has learned. Yet, this mindset opens up a larger area of discussion, because some people may feel that grades should measure what students put into their education rather than what they know. This is why participation grades and homework grades are often a part of college grading, rather than an exam counting for 100% of a student’s final grade. This intrinsically shows that what students put into the course is valuable, not just their level of intelligence at the end of it. All of these arguments are extremely valid, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe that flat out getting rid of grades will do any good, and those who have issues with the current academic climate should find a way to change grading, rather than simply getting rid of it. The optimal situation is to have an effective motivator for students to do well that measures how much they achieve in school.  The grading system may not be perfect, but it is the starting point that can be utilized to achieve an optimal solution. 

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