Overthrowing the ‘tyranny of letter grades’

November 4, 2021
Overthrowing the ‘tyranny of letter grades’

On the EdSurge podcast, host Jeffrey R. Young takes a hard look at school grading systems and imagines “a world where letter grades don’t have so much power.”  

The problem, Young says, is that “our current grading system can be a way for kids to prove themselves, win college scholarships, or gain admission to highly selective colleges. It also can turn into a game that encourages comparison to fictional averages.”  

Young says that’s how the grading system was built:  

Some say the whole system of grading focuses on ranking and sorting students rather than actually helping them learn. And it turns out, that’s by design. Much of the drive to standardize grading systems was based on the work of psychologists from the 1800s who saw the goal as finding above-average students to focus teaching on rather than looking to help all students, argues Todd Rose, a former Harvard professor and President of the think tank Populace, who studies development, intelligence and learning and is the author of the “The End of Average.”  

In his book, Rose argues that the “assumption that average-based yardsticks like academic GPAs, personality tests, and annual performance reviews reveal something meaningful about our ability is so ingrained in our consciousness that we never question it. But this assumption … is spectacularly wrong.”  

For more on the work of STT partner Todd Rose see the recent video feature from Stand Together and Freethink “No Such Thing as an Average Student” and pick up his book here.  

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