How the traditional grading system often keeps us down: a student’s perspective

The traditional A-F grading system seems to have a lot more cons than pros


Ulyana Pyrlik

Math teacher Ian Hempe sitting down grading students papers.

Why do we have a grading system? What do grades do for us that can help us be more confident about ourselves and make us want to work harder? Are we only as smart as what our grade says we are? Do people feel that we are only as smart as our grade says we are?

These are some of the questions that teachers, students, parents, and graduates ask themselves when it comes to grades.

A lot of students tend to think that our grade is what defines us and that our grade is the deciding factor on whether or not we will ever succeed in life. What is the purpose for schools to have a grading system?

People may argue that grades are something that make us want to strive to be better and strive to get that 100% and the “A,” but is that really what grades do for us.

During an interview with a Mead High School teacher, they said, “[Intelligence] isn’t something that you can measure. Grades can measure your content knowledge if done right.” This means that the knowledge that you have can’t be understood by a grade, but having grades can let you know where knowledge might be lacking.

From personal experience, when I have failed a test (or at least received a D for a grade) it really discourages me—especially when I study for the test and do everything I can to prepare. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that has these feelings of wanting to quit when failing.

The traits of those who get good grades and work hard on assignments are displayed in a student from Prospect Ridge Academy. This student stated, “I think grades are how we are viewed on a social level. But, no, I don’t think they determine how smart we really are. I think we all have different interests and values. And how we are perceived by our grades is solely on a basic level not in depth at all.”

A school in Illinois called Homer Junior High has abolished all grading because they believe that students were, “more concerned about getting an A and not about what they were learning,” as stated by Principal Troy Mitchell.

We feel this way because of that one letter on our test. That one letter can either make or break a student. You go into a test prepared and you have done everything you possibly can to be ready for that test and you finish the test confident. But afterwards, when you get the test back thinking you aced this test, but instead you see one, single letter and that one single letter is a F. You then ask yourself where you went wrong.

When you start thinking about what you did wrong, you start to doubt yourself and think that you can’t do something or your not smart enough to do that type of work. You also start to feel like there’s no way you will ever pass this class if this is the way your grade is “defining” you.

Do grades really make us want to strive to be better or are grades meant to put us down? Grades can do a lot of pushing and pulling on someone’s ego. They can make you feel really good or terrible about yourself. But in reality “good grades” is just a misconception planted in our minds by a social standard. “I think grades have a lot to do with how we view ourselves, and each other, and have a lot to do with high school social classes,” Krystal Faulkingham, a girl from Prospect Ridge Academy, stated.

Is your grade the only important thing in school? What about learning? Many younger kids would say that the grade is more important than what they learn because that grade is what could help determine their future.

If I get good grades and a good GPA and I do well on my SAT then I have a higher chance of getting into a college than the person who did not. But should my grades and test scores be the reason I don’t get a higher education than the person that did good on the tests? No, because maybe the person that failed the test or exam could be a very bright and talented person. Just because he or she didn’t perform perfectly on their tests that doesn’t mean that they’re not smart or intelligent. What it means is the subject of the test was not their strongest suit.

Many people struggle in the traditional subjects of math, science, reading, and writing but excel in other fields like art, drama, welding, automotive, culinary, or other fields.

With this in mind, grades are sometimes a good thing to have because without grades students would be slacking off, not doing their work, and not learning as much as they would if grades were still in place. We shouldn’t completely abolish the grading system because without it we wouldn’t have control over the kids. They would basically feel like they can freely do whatever they want without having to worry about grades.

Another good thing about grades is that they push athletes to stay on top of their work in order to be eligible to play. This eligibility pushes athletic kids to work hard so they can stay off the bench during a game and play with their friends and teammates.

Instead of completely abolishing the grading system, we could rework it so that school is more about learning and understanding material than worrying about passing or failing a class. If we encourage kids to learn instead of forcing them to learn, they might voluntarily set goals for themselves and learn more efficiently.

Sometimes when you set a goal you may never reach that goal which is okay because sometimes the best thing to do is fail in order to succeed. With having higher assessments it makes kids sometimes want to strive harder to get better grades and to do better on their assessments, but sometimes we don’t completely reach those goals, so sometimes we have to change our goal a little to where it’s not too high or too low so that you can still be successful.

Even though students may do well on their homework, they might feel stressed and overwhelmed when it comes to a test because they know that if they fail that test or exam and their grade could potentially drop. Having a semi-balanced grading system between homework and tests would encourage kids to learn the material instead of just doing the bare minimum—which could be simply filling out the study guide to pass the test. Otherwise, students won’t necessarily go above and beyond because they don’t have the time to do so nor do they feel it necessary to do.

Kids nowadays like to take the easy way out of things. They do the work that they absolutely have to do that is only given to them, but rarely do they do anything more. This is because we have such a big difference in our grading system. The previously quoted teacher from Mead stated we shouldn’t have such a big difference between assessments and learning activities.  Just imagine how schools would perform if students weren’t just solely focused on their grade but they were focused on their overall education. The same teacher at Mead high school stated that we shouldn’t have such a big difference between assessments and learning activities.