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Former high school physics teacher Andrew Knight is mad!

Our schools are failing. Rarely does real learning happen in modern classrooms, and when it does, it is often merely a byproduct of each student’s pursuit of an independent and potentially conflicting goal: high grades.

They choose easy teachers.

They harass teachers about grades.

They cheat.

They get into special ed.

They earn “completion” points by turning in all homework, projects and assignments.

In parent-teacher conferences, “How can my child bring up her grade?” has replaced “How can my child better learn the material?” The system’s response to angry grade-obsessed parents and disgruntled students has been to fudge the indicator instead of improving the system in other words, to inflate grades in spite of worsening performance

Finally, grades are far too personal to be effective. When an A student receives a C in algebra, for example, she is fooled into believing that she is no good at math when, in reality, a C is (or should be) an indicator of perfectly acceptable performance in which there is room for improvement. As a result, her self-esteem and confidence take serious beatings and she gives up, even though real excellence is molded from a long cycle of falling and then getting back up again.

Of course, he could just as well have been talking about colleges, even elite ones. Three quick points however:

  1. I’ve kept records of my special needs students’ performance vis-a-vis other students in my classes for 4 years … there is no nominal different in outcomes. That does not of course mean that there is not a difference (those who like stats can explain why).
  2. Despite the grade inflation and massaging, it still turns out that high school GPA is a good predictor of success in college and beyond.
  3. Our teacher seems to think that schooling is supposed to be about learning. But that farce should have been clear a long, long time ago. We encourage “feel goodiness” and reduce the time required for kids to do work so they can stuff themselves with the other amenity values they get from schooling. How else do kids develop the skills to Occupy Classrooms on college campuses?
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2 Responses to “Grade Engineering in High School”

  1. blink says:

    Like your #3, I am surprised that Knight never questions the premise that schooling is about learning. I half expected him to embrace a full-fledged signaling model or something, but his claim is more pedestrian: Grades don’t “mean” what they ought to mean. The supermarket’s produce scale is *wrong*, he intones, wagging his finger at several people with their thumbs on the pan. Never mind that the fruit being weighted may be rotten and worthless, it is an accurate weight that we need!!

  2. Speedmaster says:

    How exactly are we defining “special needs” here? My initial reaction is that if you have some kind of non-physical special needs, you may not belong in a semi-elite university.

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