Episode 111: The Broken Grading System

Something I want tattooed on my forehead is “grades don’t matter.” The current perception of the importance of grades in academia dumbfounds me, because I think that by caring too much about grades, most students are missing the point of education.
— Lauren Schuhmacher, The Huffington Post, February 14, 2013.
Regardless of the method used, grading and reporting remain inherently subjective. In fact, the more detailed the reporting method and the more analytic the process, the more likely subjectivity will influence results (Ornstein 1994). That’s why, for example, holistic scoring procedures tend to have greater reliability than analytic procedures.
— Thomas R. Guskey, ASCD, "Making the Grade: What Benefits Students?" October 1994.

While school and the larger education system have become core pillars in the mainstream narrative of our culture, many have emerged to criticize various aspects of modern education. One aspect in particular, the grading system, poses certain dangers and pitfalls that we rarely acknowledge. On the outside, grades appear to provide an objective metric and offer a standardized approach to learning. But the effects of grading on a student's self-esteem, relationship to learning as a form of personal and intellectual development and on how society denotes individual worth are all worthy of consideration. Are we too quick to abandon students who receive low grades time and again? How might our predisposition to grades as an end goal distract from the process and benefits of learning? Could we find a more thorough, human-based means of assessing individual needs, concerns and aptitudes?