what do we really believe about grades?

I’ve been startled this semester at how many of my classmates are focused on doing well on tests and getting good grades, rather than aiming for real understanding of the topics we’re studying together. We’ve spent a good portion of one class in particular discussing how the midterm test is going to be structured, what kinds of questions will be asked, and what specific things we should do as students in order to be optimally prepared for this exam. I know this is not that unusual in a university classroom, but I happen to be in a graduate program in education (BYU’s Instructional Psychology & Technology program) where people are really passionate about learning. These are the kind of people that would want their own students to be genuinely engaged in higher-order learning goals. They are not at all the kind of people I would expect to spend so much time trying to tease out of a teacher what exactly they are going to be tested on, or what exactly they need to do in order to get an A.

Now, I’m not saying anything against my classmates. These are wonderful people, and my really good friends, and they’re going to be contributing great things toward innovative education in the coming decades. I also know that my own disinterest in grades and exams arises entirely out of laziness rather than any kind of heightened ideology, and I certainly won’t presume to cast stones at anyone. Still, isn’t it a bit alarming that even this group of people, who are right in the thick of the conversations shaping the future of education, are so easily caught up in a system that they know is problematic and likely broken?

At work I have two friends who have each proposed a slogan recently to represent an attitude that values learning over a high GPA. I don’t know which of the two most grabs you: “I Am Not My As” or “B Is Beautiful.” In any case, I think they represent an important conversation that needs to be going on in our schools and institutions of higher education, a conversation about what goals we really want to be concentrating on. And as educators, I think it’s important to expect in ourselves the same things we would want and expect from our learners. Are we truly willing to abandon old paradigms ourselves?

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