Learning vs. Grades

By Jake Palmer
Published: November 2008


Many South students feel that grades take the “fun out of learning. They argue that grades create a stressful, competitive atmosphere in which getting a high score becomes more important than learning the material, making school less about learning and more about getting the right score.

“[Grades] make learning into something that’s high stakes whereas it should be something creative and exciting, junior Sarah Pincus said. In theory, the purpose of grades is for teachers to be able to monitor their students’ progress.

Pincus added that the practice of grading is detrimental to the learning process.  For example, cramming for tests to get a good grade forces students to memorize only those facts that will be on the test and takes the joy out of learning other things. Students who cram also frequently forget the information following the test.

Teachers see it too. “[Grades] are superficial indications of what a student actually learns, English teacher David Weintraub said.  He believes that students often judge themselves by their grades and that, if they get a bad grade, they feel bad about themselves.

Grades also determine how students are evaluated by other key parties, such as college admissions officers. “I can’t say everything I want to [about a student] through a grade; good learners might not get the grade they deserve, Weintraub said. A student’s learning is not best analyzed through a grade, he added; rather, learning should be looked at through qualitative means.

Understandably, Weintraub would rather give constructive comments than a letter grade.

Pincus argued that students would be able to learn better if motivation came from a passion for a subject instead of from fear that their parents would get mad at them. “Teachers should be able to motivate their students by getting them excited about learning, Pincus said.

Junior Mariana Cohen agreed. “Kids would still be motivated if they were taught to do work because it’s important, rather than because they need to get good grades, Cohen said.

She added that grades might not accurately measure a student’s progress because of a teacher’s bias, especially in English and history.

While most students agree that grades are not conducive to a good learning environment, Pincus and Cohen still both believe they are a necessary part of the education system.

“I don’t like what they do, but I wouldn’t say they should be abolished entirely, Pincus said.

Neither Pincus nor Cohen came up with an effective alternative to the current system that monitors a student’s progress, ability, and effort and also encourages students to get the most out of learning.

Weintraub believes that the issue “transcends merely that of grading. In order to truly reflect student ability and demonstrate their “profundity of learning, the entire educational system would have to be altered.

In the ideal school, for instance, students would be self-motivated to learn, or else motivated by their teachers.

Most students concede, however, that if grades were eliminated, they would have less motivation and thus fall behind in learning.

“If grades were suddenly removed, then students would have nothing to motivate them to learn.  Without grades, kids would be able to slack off, Cohen said.

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