By CHAD CARTER – STAFF WRITER
As the end of the semester draws closer, the school will begin its bi-annual epidemic of students studying for finals. Ask any of these students why they are spending large blocks of time reviewing their class materials, and the answer will almost certainly be, “So I can get a good grade on the final.”
It’s a commonly accepted fact: students study much harder for the final exams than they ever have for the class. And it’s all so they can come out of the semester not with a better understanding of the subject, but with a better grade.
How is it that the complex process of learning has been distilled down to a few numbers and a letter? Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the shortcomings of the grading system.
There are numerous problems with the grade system, but they come down to three main issues.
First, grades are often external motivators.
This is clear in the example of students studying for finals. Sure, these students might be motivated internally to strive for good grades, but that’s as far as that motivation goes, and it leads to grades sometimes defeating their own motivating purpose.
We’ve all probably taken an “easy A” class at some point during our academic career. For those of you who haven’t, imagine being able to do very little work and still receive a good grade. Imagine never doing the reading, never studying for tests, and never being stressed whatsoever about the class. It can be a truly wonderful experience.
“Even if you know that you could put in more effort, you know what would be satisfactory to the professor and you can just do what will get you the grade instead of what will get you the better comprehension,” junior Elle Enander said.
Now, those of you who have taken one of these classes, how much do you remember from the class? I would guess very little, just like the amount of work you put in.
“In my experience, the classes that have been the hardest, I’ve also learned the most. The classes where it’s very difficult to get good grades, I retain better,” sophomore Sam Morrow said.
What was the purpose of that easy class, then, except as a “GPA booster”? People have taken an entire semester of a class for the sole purpose of increasing a number they could feel defines them or their experience at Centre.
This is the second problem with grades.
“People think grades represent who they are as a person,” junior Nick Montejos said. “It puts people in a bad mood.”
We can take grades personally, especially when the grades are in subjects that directly affect future plans.
“Some people are not getting the grades that they want, and they are changing their life paths because they don’t think that med schools and grad schools will accept them,” Enander said.
These people are considering changing what was possibly their personal calling simply because of a number assigned to them by someone else, which flows into the third problem with grades: the “someone else” is not always impartial.
We do our best work for it to be evaluated by a professor, who often has no idea what we put into it. Grades, although they purport to be objective, can be highly subjective depending on the professor.
“Professors don’t always tell you how they’re grading. You have to go see them to find that out,” Montejos said.
Montejos recalled a time he asked a professor about why his grade on a paper was low, and the professor answered, “I just didn’t agree with what you were saying.” While that professor was more direct than most, professors’ personal philosophies indubitably have an effect on the way they grade.
“Certain professors expect so much of you, which is great except when they give out grades. Some professors ideologically refuse to give A’s,” Morrow said.
This isn’t bad on its own, except that there are other professors who give out A’s like candy.
The issue here is inconsistency. Across different professors, people in the same class can know the same things and put in the same effort, but have very different grades.
“Different philosophies about grading cause this difference between what your grades are and what you actually deserve,” Morrow said.
What, then, can be done to fix the problems with the grade system? Unfortunately, this is and has been the status quo in American education for a very long time.
“In the current framework of education, it’s probably as close as we can get,” Enander said.
Our education is built around the grade system. It would be near impossible to throw it out and start over with a better system.
It is possible, however, to make changes to the current system while still staying within the framework.
Montejos suggested a more integrated implementation of professor feedback, with some form of grade coupled with an evaluation by the professor of how well the student understands the subject. Morrow had a similar idea.
“If we lived in a perfect society, perhaps a professor would write an essay of recommendation on a student with an in depth evaluation of that student’s performance, work ethic, and grasp of the material,” Morrow said.
This evaluation could be used in applying for graduate school and jobs, and could possibly carry more weight than a GPA in these circumstances.
Is it possible for the grade system to be completely flawless and fair? Of course not, every system is flawed. In the long run, however, it is worth it to consider the problems with the current system and try to find possible solutions.