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Letter Grades – Not Good for Measuring One’s Potential

alternatives to letter gradesA letter grade, such as an A, B, C, and everything in between, has long been used by educationists and academia to calculate a student’s educational aptitude. This most basic factor of an education norm has become iconic with pop culture, movies and media all highlighting the power behind these alphabets.

‘She got a D in math.’

‘He’s a straight A student.’

In short, to quantify the efforts and understanding a student has over their chosen field of study, no artifact of modern formal learning has more staying power than the letter grade. In one fell swoop, an alphabetical letter has the power to open doors and opportunities for you in the future.

If one wanted to delve into how these grades are calculated, the situation becomes… a tad bit confusing. Some institutions calculate a student’s aptitude and prowess in a variety of subjects, handing out numerical scores and then converting them to a grade. Some institutes tend to turn these letter grades into averages of letter grades, thereby befuddling and confusing students and their families in the process.

‘He’s got a 3.0 GPA. Can he get into an Ivy League school with that?’

This sort of arbitrariness that accompanies grades is widely criticized. Many people are clamoring about the efficacy of grades in determining how better they are suited for professional life. There should be a fairer and equitable criteria for judging how an individual qualifies for future opportunities, be it playing sports, getting into their college / university of choice or just plain determine if they are ‘smart’ or not.

Many parents expect their offspring to score As and Bs in their academic tests because according to them that’s all there is to pursue in life. As the biggest stakeholders in the system, they want their children to perform optimally. However, more people are becoming unconvinced of its veracity as education and awareness about the over-simplified process of awarding grades comes to the fore. People are questioning the system and rightfully so.

Education has to be more than doling out stellar grades to a few students. It has to be inclusive and help students explore their strengths to the fullest. This is why educationists are experimenting with new grading systems that give a better perspective on a learner’s potential. Here are some of them:

Gamification

What if pursuing education was more like a game? That’s where the word gamification comes from. Students could be graded just like they are based on their performance and achievements in the video game. They can be awarded badges, trophies and achievements by completing a certain feat (educationists can determine what these feats are, ranging from downright easy to prohibitively difficult) they complete. Think of it like objectives and bonus tasks in a game.

This system is precise and helps uncover the more nuanced characteristics of an individual out. A letter is too simple, on the other hand.

Live Feedback

Imagine a system where there were no grades or scoring or iteration involved, but a system that would still make students learn from their mistakes and get more attention from their lecturers? Only feedback on what you have done. Verbal and written feedback that serves to help you improve immediately is the core objective here. Instead of waiting for the grades to be calculated and forgetting about your mistakes in all that time, live feedback is more about a hands-on learning experience.

Standards-Based Reporting

Switching the letter grade for numbers, this method tends to give a much better picture of a student’s aptitude than the over-simplified alphabetical letter grading process.

Concluding Thoughts

These alternatives to a simple letter grade succeed in painting a better picture of a person’s strengths and weaknesses. A good education is supposed to do just that, to highlight these discrepancies and offer corrective measures to allow students to become well-learned and cultured people who are equipped to deal with life’s myriad challenges. This is how stakeholders get a say in their future, by accurately determining how well they are doing in their scholastic pursuits, anything but a letter grade.

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