Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 8/27/2002 4:49 AM
Random Thought: The Two Fundamental Problems With Grades

This is another one of those shot-across-the-bow, non-random Random Thoughts for my VP.

I was reading an article on the SAT in today's USA TODAY that drew me back to an on-line, week-long discussion that had started out about that undefined, "oh you know what I mean" phenomena called "grade inflation." Quickly it embraced the issue of grades in general. In the course of the exchanges, it dawned on me that there are two questions that are asked constantly on our campuses. One perniciously myopic question is asked by the students: "Is this going to be on the test?" The other insidiously myopic question, which came up during a workshop I presented a few days ago, the faculty ask: "How do you grade that?"

And so, the issue of grade inflation or of grades in general can be reduced to two fundamental, complimentary, and inseparable problems. The first problem is that students have been trained like seals to believe that getting grades is all there is to an education. They have been led to believe that the yellow brick road to a good job and a good life is paved with grades. They have been schooled in becoming masters at grade getting instead of becoming master learners, in believing that what is important is only that which is going to be on the test, in doing as little as possible to get the grade, in focusing far less on thinking about and understanding the material and far more on memorizing it, and engaging in what a colleague calls "bolemic learning." They hardly ever consider those "ungradeable" character and principle essentials of an education as essential. The second real problem is that far too many faculty seem to think that giving grades is what education is all about. Though they often themselves artificially manipulate and skew the grade, they believe that dealing with those "ungradeable" essentials of an education is not their job; they believe that the results of any teaching method must be gradeable; they believe that the grade is an absolute indicator of the extent a student has mastered the material; they believe the grade is a reflection of a student's character; and they believe the grade is a predictor of future performance.

The grade has all too often become the alpha and omega of both teaching and learning, and the result is an visual educational astigmatism and a bodily educational anorexia.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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