A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Featured Article, Opinion

Grades do not measure intelligence

In the United States, grades have a lot of weight on students lives. Students depend on teachers to communicate to them their mastery of a skill through a letter or percentage. But often, everyone loses sight of the fact that grades are supposed to be feedback, not a defining factor.

“I’d rather want to be able to go to school and know that I’m learning instead of memorizing stuff. That’s the whole reason why people get bad grades on finals. As soon as the unit is over we stop memorizing and none of it actually stuck in our brain, and, due to this, you can have the highest grade in the class and not truly understand anything, just be good at memorization,” Alicia Lindsay, 12, said.

In society, a student’s intelligence is often based on their performance in school.  For some students, school is viewed as a competition, the higher the GPA average, the smarter the student. Grades give defining labels of above average, average, and below average that can be devastating for students. All of this gives students a tremendous amount of pressure to get good grades. Today, students are so focused on earning an A, they lose interest in actually learning and pursuing knowledge. In order to have a higher chance of getting a good grade, students take on easy tasks that are below their potential and don’t challenge themselves in fear of not doing well. This constant need for A’s can cause tons of stress emotionally, physically and even physiologically.

“I believe each student has their own unique intelligence that is not defined by their GPA and that the standards-based grading system is potentially where grading is heading,” English teacher Rachel Richards said.

Letter grades give students an amount of points they earned on a task, but not feedback  on whether they learned the subject. Students should always know where they stand in a class. A standards-based grading system would explain how well a student understands key concepts instead of focusing on how much credit the student got on the assignment. This grading system is measured on a 1-4 scale depending on how well the student exhibits comprehension of the concepts of the class. With this way of grading, a student’s work is measured against the standard, not other students’ and it allows students more opportunities to demonstrate their skills. Scores given would explain how often a student demonstrates a thorough understanding of the concepts, skills, and processes of a class. Practice work, such as homework isn’t graded in this system because students shouldn’t be judged when they are practicing and trying to gain understanding of a concept.

“Although the standards-based grading system is a lot different than the style we’re used to, it sounds amazing because you would be able to focus on what you still need to practice instead of a number along with actually knowing your strengths and weaknesses,” Amelia Cordova, 10 said.

According to Neatoday, Kentucky was the first to attempt this grading system statewide, starting in 2013. Schools sent home two report cards – one with letter grades, and another indicating how proficient a student was in various standards, with a narrative description of progress, and according to school surveys, Kentucky parents overwhelmingly preferred the new report cards. When parents get report cards with the traditional grading system, they typically understand that an A is the highest grade, but this doesn’t actually tell parents anything about what their child learned. Category names such as English and Math are too general to offer any insight and the letter grades could mean a variety of things. When teachers’ assessments are  based on the standards, the assessments become an instrument for dialogue between students, parents, and teachers to sufficiently discuss where students are in their learning progression.