Questions for a Questionable Grading System by K.E. FISHER

OXFORD – It seems natural to this generation that performance in school is measured with a scale of letters. Your report card is either consistent or mismatched. You stare at an unsatisfactory grade on your computer during free time in class, expecting it to change somehow. A lower grade on a report card is expected to be paired with a negative comment section from your teacher. Why? It’s because we’re taught to believe that, the later in the alphabet the grade is, the worse we are as a student.

Parents and teachers have constant questions about their students, usually about why their kids are so stressed, or why they never get any sleep. The core of these complex issues can often be traced back to a rather simple problem — the American public school grading system.

“In traditional grading, letter grades report the number of points earned in a subject but not very much about what the student has learned,” says a NeaToday article by Cindy Long. It’s been researched by education professionals and neurologists that students with “unimpressive” grades can actually absorb more knowledge that some students with higher grades.

How could it work that way, though? The mental capacity of middle and high school students is known to only have the ability to contain so much information. With typical school structure, much of that space is being used on short-term memorization; only remembering things for long enough to take the test and then get an A on it. After that, it’s on to the same cycle with a different set of information.

The students who are scoring lower on their homework and tests tend to take in more knowledge that they can store up for longer. They might not blow their scores out of the water, but they’re likely to remember information more effectively.

The concept of students being graded on how many questions they get right is also a major issue for the mental health of teenagers, according to research done by psychologists. Really, how effective is the information if you throw off your circadian rhythm trying to learn it?

Still, the factors that make the current system unstable extend far past just understanding the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. It’s fairly well-known that many districts across the country are asking questions about their school’s start times. Some argue that beginning school later would be detrimental to the schedules of parents and sports teams, but others say that it would add a massive benefit to the performance of students in the classroom.

In a study produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 U.S. states reported that 75 to 100 percent of public schools begin before 8:30 a.m. The problem with such an early time to start school is that the earlier students have to wake up, the less sleep they’re likely to get, considering most evening and night time activities are unavoidable. Most teenagers are loaded with work that can take hours to finish, cutting the amount of hours available for sleep.

One of the largest main consequences of inadequate is lower performance in school. Teachers often complain of students falling asleep during the early periods of school and dealing with short attention spans, most of which can be attributed to a student’s sleep schedule — or the lack of one.

It seems like every parent in America has told their kid that they must be able to raise their grades, at least a little. Though, it can be argued that the grade problems are not necessarily with the students, but with the system altogether. The expectation of students is to score high on work and tests, but who’s checking to see if they know something not tested on in schools?

Intelligence correlates with high grades in various subjects, according to general societal standards, and if you don’t have those high letter grades, you’re labeled as unintelligent. How much is that intelligence restricted, though? With such limited subjects taught in traditional schools, students can end up feeling limited in the intelligence they are able to display. How do you know if a low-achieving student is brilliant at something that isn’t taught in school?

Of course, there are answers to these questions that we may not know until something changes our grading system to consider more heavily a student’s strengths and to assess their weaknesses more attentively. It should be worth the hassle to acknowledge that today’s students are worth more than a scale of five letters.