People like to be comfortable. Longstanding tradition is often comforting, even when it isn’t particularly reasonable or even fair. Such is the case with the traditional school grading system. It’s something all parents understand because it’s how they were evaluated as students. There were A students and C students and failures. That’s just the way it works. Winners and losers. The American Way.
Except that the purpose of educating children shouldn’t be to classify them as failures or achievers. It should be to, well, educate them and motivate them. And while parents and students need to know where they are succeeding and where they need help, no one needs a grading system for children that terms them failures by averaging out a variety of factors that may or may not have much to do with understanding academic concepts.
That, by and large, is how children have been evaluated for as long as anyone can remember. You earn a certain number of points based on assignments, tests and quizzes and divide that number by how many points were available. Then you throw in random factors — participation, preparedness, extra credit. Total it up and bingo, this is what you’re worth.
Except that the grades are not particularly enlightening. Joey gets an 87 percent on his tests but fails to turn in all his homework and thinks the class is boring, so he doesn’t participate. He gets a C, even though he knows the material at close to an A level. Jimmy gets 78 on his tests but turns in everything and participates enthusiastically. He also makes sure to get extra credit when he can. He earns a solid B, even though his actual understanding of the material is lower than Joey’s.
The letter grade is a misleading indicator in many instances — and an incomplete one in almost any instance.
Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 is heading away from that grading system in favor of a standards-based reporting system. That’s a step in the right direction.
As the district has moved toward differentiated instruction — that is, aligning instruction with a student’s mastery of a subject — it has made the old grading system somewhat obsolete because while all of the students ought to be improving, they are improving at different rates.
The goal should be to make sure all students, even ones that the traditional grading system would term a failure, are motivated to excel, or at least improve. If there’s progress, there’s motivation. If there’s simply a stamp of failure, there’s discouragement.
Once students get to high school, of course, the traditional grading game rules and is unlikely to change, since it is so closely linked to college admission. But prior to reaching high school, the goal of elementary school should be to motivate children to excel in academics and provide guidance for consistent improvement.
The end product of education should not be a grade or a name on an honor roll. The end product of education is knowledge, the ability to think critically and a love of learning.
A standards-based reporting system can’t guarantee that result for all students, but it appears to be a more realistic way to evaluate student performance during such a critical period for impressionable children.