Senior Suggestions: Letter grades mark progress, provoke change

rena_WEBYou get an essay back with a D on it. You immediately think this is an injustice and think the professor is at fault for not teaching well enough or hating you. You think, I wish this class was pass or fail so I would not see these letters determining the value of my work.

Still, by not having some sort of marker on an assignment, how is a student supposed to know where they stand in a class? Grading is a way to evaluate your academic progress. According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), “Grading enables teachers to communicate the achievements of students to parents and others, provide incentives to learn and provide information that students can use for self-evaluation.”

When I receive a graded paper, I look at comments or the answers I got wrong to see how I can improve for next time. Learning for me isn’t passive or something I just do. Learning is something I motivate myself to be better at. I know I’m worth top marks, so that’s how much effort I will put into the work. If I am not getting marks for something, I won’t put as much effort into the assignment.

When there are no grades, no method for me to evaluate my progress or no consequences, I won’t bother with an assignment when I could be putting my energy toward things I know will better my achievements.

Grades are also used for administrative purposes, such as how you earn or keep your scholarships. According to Peter Airasian, an educational measurement expert, as reported by the ASCD, grades provide guidance on how to do better on future coursework. They also guide teachers as they decide if they need to change their teaching methods or course plan to motivate students.

It is also easier to see where you stand as opposed to whether you are just passing or failing. If I knew I was “passing,” I would continue what I was doing. If I had a 75 out of 100, I would feel the need to improve my grades and work a little harder. Having concrete evidence that I need improvement motivates me to push harder.

Additionally, when a course is pass or fail, Campus Explorer says, “For many colleges, a student receives a pass if he earns a D or higher in the class and fail if they earn anything lower.” So even if you think you aren’t being graded in a pass or fail course, you still are.

In order to consider your academic achievement, your progress and efforts are going to be numerically assessed one way or another. But what about the real world where grades don’t exist? Oh, but they do. Most jobs have performance reviews. You get feedback on your projects. These are “markers” in how well you are doing.

Your boss will never hand you back a report with a red-stamped B on it, but he or she will sure let you know how well or poorly you did. Your performance review can give you better insight on how to improve your professional skills and attitudes. Employers and others will always be assessing you in some way, so it’s something to get used to.

I don’t necessarily need letter grades, but there has to be some system to assess how well I am doing. Or there needs to be some sort of scale that shows me how I can improve. Numbers will continue to assess our lives. Statisticians will tell you the same thing. So why be afraid of grades?


—Rena Carman

Senior communication studies major


Printed in the 11/9/16 issue.

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