Let’s say life is like school…In order to move on in life (buy a house, get a new car, have kids, etc) you must do well in all that you do. You must do really well. If you want a nice house and good kids you must be the best of the best. You have to get at least a 4.3. Are you getting a 4.3 in life? Would your GPA in life really be an indicator of how good, how successful, or how talented of a person you are?
Lets say in the span of nine months you must master the following things (this is a list of things in life that may be as irrelevant to you as some of our subjects are to students).
- Learn how to drive a big rig
- Bake red velvet cupcakes from scratch
- Hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches
- “Close” read and analyze the Affordable Care Act
That’s your schedule for the next nine months. At the end you will be given a grade based on how well you do those things. That grade will help determine your next step in life. Do well, you get awesome opportunities; Do poorly, and your opportunities will be a little more limited.
Also, there’s no extra credit in life…Can you bring your boss a ream of paper and some kleenex and in return you get a raise and now you can get a Porsche instead of a Nissan? Can you get a bonus for not going to bathroom more than 4 times? That bonus might be the difference between you getting your first house or not. House or bladder infection? Hmmm? Do they give pay raises to employees that go to the company softball games? Doubt it.
I understand that we must assess students and give them grades. But what do those grades really mean in the long run? What are we actually grading? Knowledge? Behavior and compliance? Skill? Growth? What if (insert subject here) just isn’t their thing? We are giving a grade that determines a lot of what will happen in their future. Their path in life is affected by the grades we give. So what do we value? What should we reward?
Just because I couldn’t hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches (which would be a 66% if it was test), does not mean that I’m not deserving of opportunities in the future. I really tried! I worked on my swing, but it just didn’t happen. It’s hard to get that good at baseball when I had to bake cupcakes until I got it right, and then take lessons on driving a big rig. Parking those big things is tough! Don’t even get me started on that Obamacare document. That thing was pretty confusing. And how come my karate skills weren’t tested. I’m a black belt, but that didn’t get assessed. I would’ve really impressed them if they asked me to do a roundhouse kick. So now I rent a small apartment and drive a ‘94 Nissan Maxima because I wasn’t good at a few things. But I am good at a lot of other things. I wish my teachers in the school of life would’ve recognized that. Now I kind of feel like a failure.
Grades are tricky. As long as colleges continue to look at GPAs, I guess we have to give grades. I hope one day that their formula for determining who gets in changes. I hope companies like Google, who don’t care about GPA when hiring, influence other companies and eventually colleges to make some changes. Our value as students, employers, and humans can’t be accurately summed up in points and letter grades.
Another flaw in grades are that they are very subjective. A student who has me and earns an A might have earned a C if they had been in another teacher’s class. It all comes down to how a teacher grades and what they value. That differs from teacher to teacher. This means students are just learning how to play the game of school. I could go on about the subjectivity of grades, but I’d rather just throw it out there as another thinking point when reflecting on your grading policy.
As you start preparing for next year, look at your grading policy and at least think about what you are grading, why you are grading it, and if it really determines the value of that student. Just because grades have always been done a certain way and we’ve always been told that a 92% is an A and a 62% is a D doesn’t mean that it’s the right way or the only way.
Let’s not deprive students of opportunities because their cupcakes suck. Let them do a few roundhouses and kick that cupcake right off the top of your head. I’d say that’s just as impressive.