Grading Must Go?

In today’s Martin Center article, Duke University professor John Staddon looks at the movement to abolish grades.

The centuries-old idea of grading was simple: “That some kids are brighter than others, that these differences are reflected (not perfectly: some backward kids work hard, some bright kids are idle!) in their grades, and that grades serve both to inform and motivate students.” But our education experts (one prof who wrote a piece for the New York Times in particular) now know better.

Staddon continues:

Things are very different now. The reality of human difference — difference in every aspect from height, weight, and beauty to intelligence and industriousness — has become a huge problem for America. Many people simply can’t accept it. A big problem with grades is that they make these differences impossible to ignore. Hence, pressure to make them taboo.

Cancel the fact of human differences and the “progressive” project of turning America into Animal Farm goes so much quicker.

Staddon identifies three erroneous ideas that may doom grading:

  • The belief that all are equally talented
  • The hegemony of “feelings:” even momentary unhappiness must be avoided
  • Bad science, which says that ”aversive control” is ineffective

He concludes:

No doubt tests, examinations, and grading systems could be improved. But in fact the trend has been to go to pass-fail or eliminate grading entirely. The result may well be the ignorance we see displayed by young BLM protesters who attempt to pull down statues of Abraham Lincoln and other emancipators. We need not less grading but more, more open posting of grades, and not easier exams but tougher ones.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.