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Educational growth and development is a complicated process that requires professional and proper management. First, it requires the cooperation of all stakeholders involved, including general school managers, teachers, students, parents, top education officials, and the wider society where learning institutions are located.
In addition to quality management and cooperation of all relevant educational stakeholders, learning requires the application of effective and efficient content delivery approaches and an evaluation or assessment of the methods. Various educational schools of thought have put forward numerous educational theories on the most effective evaluation methods. One such school of thought holds that giving students grades does more harm than good.
It is thus proposed that schools should replace grades with written evaluations of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Scholars who have adopted this school of thought maintain that doing so would benefit not only the students, but also their parents or guardians in terms of keeping abreast with the children’s overall educational progress and performance. This task is an argumentative report against this school of thought.
Reasons why giving students grades do more harm than good
All relevant education stakeholders are concerned about the need to regularly evaluate how well their students are performing academically. Consequently, different educational systems found in different countries have crafted diverse evaluation approaches with a view to determining the education growth and development of their students on a regular basis in relation to their desired ultimate educational goals and objectives (Kohn, 1994).
Opponents of grading as an evaluation and assessment approach have offered various reasons to elucidate why giving grades to students does more harm than good. First, they argue that grades cannot adequately be dependent on in effectively classifying students (Kohn, 1994). Secondly, grading is counterproductive to one of the major rationales of education, which is to motivate students to put more effort in their studies so that they can receive a favorable evaluation (Kohn, 1994; Casas, 2009).
Thirdly, avid critics of the grading system contend that grades are an absolutely inadequate method of accessing the other main rationale of education, which is to provide a feedback to the learners so that they can do a self-introspection and work harder towards achieving higher grades in their studies (Kohn 1994).
The first underlying principle of grading is to sort students or designate them on the basis of their academic performance. However, this principle has been criticized from three points of view. To begin with, it is argued that grading as an instrument of labeling students in accordance with their performance does not enable educators to put individual students into the right group (Kohn, 1994).
For instance, it is interesting to note that numerous studies have consistently shown that learners’ performance does not get better when educators grade their students more rigorously and on the other hand making it considerably easier for students to get a good grade does not make students to do inferior work.
As a result, critics argue that grading is not sufficiently reliable to as a yardstick with which to efficiently categorize students (Kohn, 1994). As a matter of fact, a larger disparity emerges when a given piece of work is assessed by more than one instructor. Critics thus contend that grades do not of do not offer anything meaningful evaluation rather than “…a subjective rating masquerading as an objective assessment.” (Kohn, 1994).
Furthermore, critics also argue that when grading is used as an instrument of sorting student on the basis of their performance, it is not clear if it is done to set apart learners by their abilities and teach them separately. They therefore dismiss sorting as a process that is not only different but also often mismatched with the objective of assisting students to gain knowledge.
The second rationale of grading which like of any other assessment strategy is supposed to motivate students to put more efforts in their studies has also been severely criticized. It is argued that since more often than not, grades function as rewards or punishments instead of useful pointers to students regarding what part of a test or exam was done well and which part needs improvement, they are counter helpful (Hargis, 2003).
According to Kohn (1994), this argument is anchored on the premise that in real life, there is a significant and qualitative difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Critics assert that these two motivational orientations tend to pull in opposite directions (Kohn, 1994; Casas, 2009). Critics argue that grading is essentially an extrinsic motivator that has the potential to undermine intrinsic motivation.
For example, Casas (2009) argues that grading makes learners with performance goals orientation struggle for better grades or put every effort in acknowledging their abilities because they are largely anxious about how well they are performing when compared with their classmates. Critics of this aspect of grading therefore argue that by and large, it overshadows the most important goal of studying for purposes of self-improvement.
Grading thus makes students prone to be trouble about their assignments and over concentrate on achieving good grades and basically, to focus on finishing their work rather than taking pleasure in the process of learning (Hargis, 2003). In the long run, since grading makes students look for extrinsic incentives like good grades, rewards and honors, they easily resort to poor cognitive approaches like cramming and memorization (Casas, 2009).
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The third justification of grading is also criticized on the grounds that even if it is okay to assist students internalize and pull up their socks for a better performance, it is likely to occur effectively when learners understand success and failure as meaningful information pointing to where they were strong or weak in a given exam and not as rewards or punishment (Kohn 1994).
In other words, critics argue that assessing a student’s work in terms of a mere number or letter can hardly help a learner because a letter B on top of a student’s paper informs a student nothing regarding what was inspiring about his or her paper or how it can be made better. In short, critics such as Butler and Nissan cited in Kohn (1994) contend that even though grading can put emphasis on quantitative aspects of studying, it largely discourages creativity, encourages fear of failure and undermines students learning interests.
It is perfectly safe to argue that there is no particular evaluation or assessment strategy in learning that can be effective on its own in classifying and helping students to work hard for better performance.
Even though written evaluation is greatly helpful in evaluating students’ strengths and weaknesses it also has its own inherent weaknesses which must be complemented by other evaluation strategies like conventional grading which is quantitative and thus fairly reflective though numerically of the average performance of a student (Riner, 2000).
Teachers can only give a meaningful and conclusive written evaluation of a student on the basis of a number which is in turn assigned a letter to represent a grade. In other words, grading has its own shortcomings and as such, it should be thoroughly complemented with written evaluations which are more informative in terms of guiding students where they were strong in a given paper and where they need to improve (Nunan, 1992).
Learning is certainly a complicated process which requires evaluation and measurement on a regular basis so that teachers, students and parents and other concerned educational stakeholders can determine their progress in relation to their overall educational goals and objectives. Different educational systems have varying evaluation strategies some of which are more quantitative while others are quantitative.
Even though grading is largely quantitative and have other shortcomings it cannot be entirely be replaced with written evaluations without risking objectivity of evaluating in the learning process. It should therefore, be supplemented with written evaluations rather than being replaced with grading completely. In short, there is nothing in learning and examining like an exhaustive or comprehensive evaluation or assessment strategies which do not need to be supplemented by other approaches.
Casas, M. (2009). Enhancing Student Learning in Middle School. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Hargis, C. H. (2003). Grades and grading practices: obstacles to improving education and to helping at-risk students. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Kohn, A. (1994). Grading: The Issue Is Not How but Why. Educational Leadership. Web.
Nunan, D. (1992). Collaborative language learning and teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Riner, P. S. (2000). Successful teaching in the elementary classroom. Columbus, Oh: Merrill.