I Want an A+
It was barely a decade ago when I walked the hallways in high school assuming I had the world figured out. My friends and I were the smarty-arty kids whom loved classic rock, foreign films, and underground hip-hop. Our junior year was a turning point for all of us when it became blatantly obvious that high school would not last forever and we had to give our future some thought. Suddenly, the group split apart between the few that became obsessed with merit scholarships and the SAT’s, and the rest of us that were too cool for all of that. I will never forget the image of one friend, drawn to tears because she got an eighty-eight on a biology test. All she could think about is that it could potentially kill her nearly perfect grade point average. In those days if schools converting to a strictly pass or fail grading system was put to debate I would have been one of the people in the catfight for conversion, but not because I felt grading built completion and cheated intellectual pursuits. Myself and students like me at the time would have chosen pass or fail as a grading option, because we did not take our education seriously. We did not want to work as hard as our other peers who earned sky high grade point averages, but we knew that we did not want to be at the bottom or the barrel either. What separated us from our peers that excelled academically was not intellectual ability, quite simply the difference was hard work, and our grades reflected that. Although the current grading system is not perfect, it is the most accurate diagram that enables educators to pinpoint areas of needed improvement and strengthen the intellectual attributes of students.
Retired educator Joy Alonso is an advocate for the current grading system and its pinnacle assessment procedures known as examinations. In a talk she participated in at Tufts University she stated that, “A quiz on a reading assignment forces the student to do the necessary work before the quiz” (Alonso821). Alonso stresses that the presence of exams and quizzes in the classroom compels students to meet requirements, and without the pressure of vying for grades students would not excel. Most students would reluctantly agree with this, reflecting back on the many late nights spent cramming and hours at the library pulling their hair out. Alonso acknowledges that the current system is meant to challenge students to exceed expectations saying that, “In studying for examination, a student begins to see not just trees but the forest” (Alonso821).
Not all educators are enthusiastic about the current structure of assessment practiced in America’s school. Alfie Kohn writes about the negative effects of grading on students and teachers in an essay from his book “What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?” He feels that the current grading system makes teachers distrust their students, because teachers must question whether or not the students are attempting to take advantage of them in hopes of better grades (Kohn 810). Imagining the challenging position of any teacher one can definitely understand how that is possible. However, there are plenty of students whom are very fond of their various teachers and that fondness stems from respect more so than from ulterior motives. Kohn also explains in his essay that the competition stirred by the grading structure teaches students that the purpose of education is to be better than their peers, and that this practice minimizes the desire to learn something thoroughly (Kohn 808). Kohn’s point of view on this particular subject on many levels is accurate. Most students in their academic pursuits have occasionally compromised their studies to adjust to the demands of grading and examination. Although this may appear counterproductive to education, most students who outline their studies in this manner tend to absorb a broader range of knowledge than their counterparts whom do not. Kohn is correct in assuming that exams are a unforgiving and impersonal form of measuring achievement, however, he is incorrect in assuming that exam content is not sufficient to an astute and dynamic education. The point of exams are to, “to test or measure achievement, and to stimulate learning” (Alonso 821). If there were not any motivating factors for merit and achievement, even the most driven students would become apathetic at times, because the grading structure would not have distinction between excellence and mediocrity.
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch stated in an essay for Time magazine that, “we have seen the benefits that flow to disadvantaged students because of the information provided by state test” (Ravitch 806). Ravitch goes on to say that test are an great way for teachers to track what their students have learned and have not learned, and the intention of this information is to strengthen students ability (Ravitch 806). Many studies have linked academic achievement with professional success. Therefore, it is vital that students are tested yearly to ensure their progress into adulthood. Testing is also an valid assessment tool for educators to measure the effectiveness of curriculum and programs. It would be difficult to find an American who would not agree that education is necessary for our survival as a society, and the standards of education should not be compromised. After all, if we lowered the standards that measure a student’s academic achievement we would do a great disservice to not only the student, but also our society.
Alonso, Joy. “Two Cheers for Examinations.” Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Eduring Questions, A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. 820-823.
Kohn, Alfie. Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Eduring Questions, A Guide Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. 808-817.
Ravitch, Diane. “In Defense of Testing.” Barnet, Sylvan and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions, A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. 806-807.