Why Grades Don’t Work

The United States grading system was created over 100 years ago, and although Andover uses a slightly revised six-point scale, the concept remains the same. Grades were initially implemented as a means to measure students’ academic performance, but their efficacy in the present day is questionable.

Because students have the notion that their grades at Andover will effectively shape the rest of their lives, grades can be an overwhelming source of anxiety. A student’s grade at Andover becomes an aspect of their identity — a number that defines their intelligence. Moreover, in addition to measuring one’s academic excellence, grades have become an indicator of one’s willingness to sacrifice sleep and other commitments.

Because of the overwhelming importance placed on grades, good grades become the only thing that students strive for. Rather than by a desire for knowledge that fuels their work, they are motivated by numbers. This trivialization of knowledge creates an environment where students learn to the test and study for the grade, only to let abandon their learning after formal assessment has been completed.

Additionally, grade-centric culture discourages risk-taking. In individual assignments, students are rewarded by following instructions exactly. In the classes they decide to take, they are encouraged to pursue comfortable courses. Students will often choose classes known to be “easy 6’s” to boost their GPA, and over time, this erodes their desire to learn.

All over the U.S., high schools have begun to remove their grading system entirely. They focus more heavily on learning. For example, Milton Academy will eliminate grades for their ninth grade class starting next fall. If we follow their lead and remove (or at least reduce the importance of) the grading system in favor of teacher comments, Andover could reduce students’ anxiety and develop an environment in which students can focus on learning rather than assessments.

The school should make it possible for students to take classes they are interested in and learn material that they want to learn without the repercussions of a “bad” grade. Of course, certain requirements would have to be put in place to prevent students from taking five math courses, but every student can find a topic of interest in any subject.

For now, it is important to realize that grades aren’t everything. The number that shows up on a transcript is only a tiny part of a student’s identity. “Good” grades in high school rarely indicate excellence later in life, and it is more important to take advantage of the resources we have at Andover, rather than to avoid challenge and opportunity in pursuit of an insignificant number.