Opinion: Grading System or Learning System?

Opinion: Grading System or Learning System?

Madelyn Jimenez, Staff Writer

Schools should be determined to change the grading system to a comprehension-based learning system.

Does it matter that you got a 75 on a test if you don’t even understand why you got that grade?  Are grades as helpful for students as schools make them out to be? Two valid questions that have the same answer: no.

The traditional grading system can help by providing a student with a view of their performance through a letter or number, but it does not accurately translate a student’s performance nor achievements. Some education researchers from the University of the People, in the article “Effects Of Grading System On Students,” have even concluded that grades “depressed creativity, increased fear of failure, and weakened students’ interests.” These are just some of the reasons as to why the traditional grading system has got to go. 

For over a century grades have been used for giving feedback on students’ work. This helps college admission committees assess who is ready for college level academics; it can also help teachers know who needs some extra help. On the other hand, this grading system may not accurately reflect what a student is learning. Sometimes there is not an explanation for how a student got to the grade they achieved, and the grade does not necessarily reflect comprehension of the subject matter. Some students could be learning more than others, but are not able to apply their knowledge well to the assignment or task given. Even if a student may know their work but misses an assignment, they can easily be at risk of failing. On the contrary, a student may earn a good grade but not really comprehend the material. 

Grades can disregard the comprehension of subject matter by forcing students to memorize details necessary to pass a test. In reality, students should be able to master the skills required to solve the problem. Many failing students only know that they are failing, with no understanding as to why they are failing. Students only know that their grades aren’t high enough, that they seem to not be trying hard enough, but they don’t know what skills they are lacking and missing in order to help improve their grades. Oftentimes, once a student fails a test they don’t have the opportunity (or motivation) to review it or go back and retry the same test to re-learn and improve on that specific subject.

A student who failed a certain subject matter may not have any motivation to improve on it because their class just moves on to the next unit. So it’s either go back and try to understand this on their own or keep trying to keep up with the speed of the class, which still causes a student to fail. 

Attempting to keep up with the class and at the same time, trying to understand where you may have gone wrong in a failing grade, can cause extreme anxiety for a student as well. According to Joe Feldmen at ASCD, having this relentless pressure to succeed makes students sleep deprived and anxious. Soon enough, students will not want to try so hard just to easily fall behind again.

So then what is a way to show students’ success and improve their learning ability at the same time? How does someone grade comprehension? Well Brooklyn’s Middle School 442 is one of hundreds that use an alternative to the grading system inside their classrooms. This allows students to focus on mastering a set of grade level skills, moving to the next set of skills when they have shown that they are ready. In these kinds of schools, there is no failing. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later. They accommodate struggling students by allowing them time and practice until they get it. For students who get a hold of concepts quickly, they can have the opportunity to move ahead. Of course this strategy looks different for all classrooms, as well as the materials they need to master. Students will still have worksheets, lessons, and small group discussions with their teacher, just at their own pace. They get frequent updates on skills they have learned and those they need to obtain. 

This provides students with comprehension of their education, which is just what schools need. Let’s not focus on a grading system, but rather a learning system in which all students can succeed.

* Image from freesvg.org, License: Public Domain