Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On the importance of grades

Do grades reflect your actual ability or knowledge?

I earned a 2.4 grade in my Organic Chemistry class at the University of Washington. (The UW did not give letter grades while I was there - only numerical equivalents. Don't ask me why.) That, in truth, probably overstated my actual knowledge in the course.

Grades, of course, signify your ability and knowledge. In a manner of speaking, they represent how smart you are.

But do they?

I would humbly suggest that the grade I earned in Organic Chemistry in 1977 probably was a poor reflection of my actual knowledge.

A recent article in The Atlantic suggests grades reveal little about achievement. The article focuses on grade inflation and notes that while grades and GPAs have increased over time measures of actual achievement and knowledge have remained relatively static.

Which leads to the question of why we pursue grades with such vigor.

Next week students at Novi High School will have their midterm exams. Study sessions are and will be organized to prep students for these exams. Teachers will engage in class reviews. Students will gather at coffee shops and in the library to help each other prepare.

I am not here to suggest that these efforts are not important.

I am here to ask another question: Of what importance are grades?

We must be able to help students, and by extension parents, community members, colleges, employers, and others with an interest in knowing exactly how smart our students are, know where they stand. Do they know the material is a relatively important question.

But my question is: Do grades actually help us answer that question?

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