Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

The Divide: Grades vs. Learning

As high school students, our main goal in school is to get good grades, so that we can get into a good college...right? Or are we actually supposed to master concepts that will help us later on, both in class and in life? Although grades are often considered a measure of learning, this is not always the case; grades have become independent of learning, and learning is independent of grades. However, the two are not equally important – all too often, schools focus on grades over learning. Educational programs should value learning more than they do numerical or letter grades, in order to provide a stronger foundation for life.

The purpose of having a grading system is to provide a quantitative way to measure student progress, as opposed to the qualitative and seemingly flippant “Oh yeah, she knows all about the Civil War.” However, these numbers are only effective guides when the assignments used to determine grades adequately reflect the concepts covered in class, in a way that appeals to real learning. But what is real learning? In order to realize the meaning of learning in education, one must first define education. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the verb “educate” as “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction .” By this definition, educational facilities should be focused on training the minds of students, on helping the students truly understand the material that they are studying and being tested on. Unfortunately, the modern emphasis on grades detracts from student motivation to learn, shifting the objective from digesting raw information and making sense of it to simply making the grade by any means necessary – even thoughtless memorization, or dishonesty. That grades are an accurate reflection of learning is a common assumption, but – like many assumptions – it is not completely true; grades are derived from assignments – classwork, homework, tests, quizzes – many of which ask students to recall information. Recall assignments rely primarily on rote memorization, not critical thinking or creativity; they don't teach one how to think, but what to think. In the Republic of Ghana, for instance, some university professors expect direct quotations from their lectures to be used on exams; students who, after actually analyzing the ideas, rephrase the answer in their own words lose points. This may seem like an extreme, distant example, but it is not unlike American lecture halls and classrooms, where students are frequently taught to regurgitate information in exchange for high marks. Is this learning?

High grades are not the equivalent of a high level of comprehension. Similarly, a high level of comprehension can still result in low grades, sometimes due to the format of assessments, or other inconsistencies. One such inconsistency is the potential for a mismatched curriculum and exam; if a test asks questions about material that hasn't been covered, the only way to get a good grade would be to develop a talent for random guessing. Some tests ask questions about material that has been covered, but do so in a way that is overly detail-oriented, emphasizing the memorization of facts over understanding general concepts. In an age where standardized tests seem to control the tides of the educational system, it is of critical importance to develop tests that balance the prevalent multiple-choice system with relevant questions that place importance in learning, not mere memorization. While it can be important to – dare I say it? - memorize some facts in order to build upon them – like knowing that 2+2=4, or that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 – the fact-based discussion and comprehension is what truly tests the mind, fulfilling the goals of education.

Generally speaking, schools have shifted from places that foster higher-level thinking and creativity to accounting firms that revolve around numbers. Learning, in the purest, grade-independent sense, cannot be summed up in a percentage, or in a grade point average. In order to set our sights in the correct direction, grades must reconcile their differences with our learning ability.



Join the Discussion


This article has 3 comments. Post your own!

M&MS said...
May 3, 2010 at 11:02 am:
Thank you! Everyone really can relate to this. It's absurd that our intelligence is measured by these "grades." And in evaluating us and teachers based on this process encourages dishonesty. :D
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
KMN! said...
May 3, 2010 at 10:54 am:
This is boss. I absolutely love the fact that you referenced Ghana and had the specific definition of education from the dictionary. This article is something that all students can really relate to, seeing as thought we tend to forget about 80% of the important information that we learn through out a year in the span of two months during summer break.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Anise said...
May 3, 2010 at 10:34 am:
For those who are presently being bludgeoned by the testing season presently taking place at a school near you, here is verbal relief! BAM...in your face, NCLB, you should be proud of yourself...maybe?
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback