Many articles have been published recently about cheating on tests, students writing papers for others, teachers gaming the system to get better bonuses, and schools changing student scores to get much needed school funding. Given the real-world high stakes that are tied to test results and grades—from teachers’ salaries to students’ ability to get into their college of choice—it’s not surprising that cheating has long been huge issue. In fact, according to one article, the proportion of students admitting that they have cheated at least once in their college careers has hovered around 75 percent since the first major survey on cheating in higher education in 1963.
Established thinking determines that test grades are the major factor for getting into college, and once there, grades are the goal in continuing racing to the top of the class. Standardized tests and grades are part of an antiquated education model that offers efficiencies for the system, but few benefits for the learner or their future employers. Rote testing does nothing to foster curiosity and true interest, it just forces temporary memorization of facts, and facts alone are pretty useless without ideas, innovation, and creativity.
Speaking as an executive who hires many people and reviews hundreds of résumés, I can assure you that the grades a person got in high school or college are never on my list of concerns. I am much more interested in a candidate’s social skills, portfolio, accomplishments, and track record. If we want a nation of thinkers and doers, standardized testing is not going to get us there. In fact, I believe that focusing so heavily on grades as an indicator of success might be part of the reason there is such a huge skills gap in America.
Thankfully, public policy seems to be moving in the direction of abandoning the No Child Left Behind Act and its laser focus on standardized testing and measuring. Forty-six states are already on board with the new Common Core curriculum, which promotes critical thinking, collaboration, and project-based learning. The biggest controversy around Common Core is teachers’ fear of the lack of grading guidelines. That’s because the types of skills it promotes are subjective, and there is no mechanized grade-based way to judge them. So what do teachers do?
They have two choices: The first is to try to create tests able to quantify something that is, by definition, not quite quantifiable. Which basically reinvents the problem, rather than solving it.
But there is another option: Get rid of grades altogether. We need true learning in our schools by championing processes that cannot be graded: engagement, participation, practice and initiative. If we keep our old model of education, we should not expect new results.
Some high schools and colleges have implemented a system of teacher and student-self evaluations—also known as “narrative evaluations”—that I believe is a great step in the right direction. As an employer, I would much rather read about what a teacher wrote about a potential job candidate than rely on what grade was given. Plus, students develop the ability of self-evaluation as a practice that fosters self-awareness and critique—a highly valued skill in any industry. And the review systems practiced by most HR departments involve writing and receiving evaluations, so students are gaining invaluable real-world experience.
The method of learning that evokes our deepest engagement is to listen, to question, to discuss, to present, to collaborate, to debate. This moves students from a world of “one right answer,” which is what standardized tests measure, into a world of HOW to use the information, how to think, and how to challenge—which is quite different and immeasurably more valuable.
The saddest part of gaming the grading system is that students are being cheated out of education’s greatest gift, which is to develop life-long curiosity and love of learning. The goal of real education is get students engaged, curious, and eager to tackle familiar problems and find new answers, new solutions—something the world is sorely in need of at the moment. Thoughts?
*Illustration by Bruce Heavin
Originally Posted On: Linked In By: Lynda Weinman
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