Do grades matter?

The question “Do grades matter?” has been posed by many students, philosophy teachers, and a collection of other types of people primarily in the last few decades. Yet again, one of my teachers asked the class if we considered grades of any importance other than an obstacle in gaining your degree. On the surface level, many would say of course grades matter; no grades means no one has the ability to rank others on how well they completed their course, assignment etc., so people essentially could not receive degrees in a field of study.  However, on a deeper level, do grades represent anything of true quality? Many philosophers, modern and ancient, have tried to tackle this issue.

Does a grade properly represent the effort and time a person spent on a certain assignment? Some would say yes, that if a person received an ‘A’ on an assignment, they obviously did the work necessary to achieve that grade; or did they? Many people have excellent memorization skills, so they need perhaps 20 minutes to study for an examine to receive an ‘A’ whereas many different people need to spend a few hours spread over a longer time period to achieve the same grade. Who received the better learning experience? Who retained the information better? What if a person who would have received 100% on a test, due to their dedication as a student, somehow was unable to take the test, resulting in an F? Out of all three students, who knows more? Who would receive the better or highest-paying job? With the numerous answers that arise out of these questions, the underlying inquiry then becomes: Are grades a true reflection of a person’s effort and skill, or an arbitrary line drawn in the sand by the teacher and the administration which employs him/her?

Through my own personal experiences, I believe grades are somewhat arbitrarily drawn lines, but that these lines do show a representation of student, teacher, and the school.  Every student understands that some courses, some teachers are ‘easier’ than others; hence why some students take a particular course for the ‘easy A.’ Many students rank their courses according to their own grading system of relevance to achieving the desired degree and practical applications, level of difficulty, as well as the person teaching the class and the people who attend the class. This ranking process then leads students to make certain behavioral changes, such as what classes to attend more frequently, which class’ homework can be done last, or even turned it late, and what class is more beneficial to them in the long run. This idea of quality comes up again, although, this time from the students’ perspective; teachers are ranked through their administration, and the administration is ranked by the governing body be it state or national level. So when a teacher gives a student a certain ranking, a numerical or alphabetical indication of the quality of the student’s work, should they matter to anyone else other than teacher, because the teacher is the one deciding that rank? The grades you receive do matter to the outside world- an ‘A’ student, theoretically, should have more opportunities open to them compared to a ‘C’ student. So, to what degree should these grades matter to you? Does a student who gave an honest, earnest, heartfelt attempt at an examine/assignment deserve an ‘A’ or a ‘C’ when compared to a student who did not need to work nearly as hard to achieve the correct answers on a examine/assignment?  Does the grade matter more than the learning experience itself?

It is a very difficult question to answer; I can only answer it for myself, and even then, I still am shaky as to where my beliefs truly lie. For me, separating the learning experience and the grade is difficult. I have not been in a class I thought was pointless, but that is due to my strong belief that all learning is a beneficial skill. I make a personal choice to not deem any opportunity I receive to learn something as pointless; unfortunately, I do make the same distinction between the different learning experiences, therefore, ranking one better than another. When a teacher lays out the criteria of passing a class with an ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or ‘C’ I shoot for the ‘A,’ and I have yet to miss; teachers  and their grading criteria differ greatly, but my want to pass a class with flying colors does not. In a very abstract way, grades are a very unclear, nearly obsolete way of assessing my character as a person. People who receive bad grades are not all bad people, and people who receive excellent grades are not all excellent people either, but for my own personal gain, that grade means something. As I acquire more and more knowledge, it seems to me, if I am to change the system of learning, I should at least have it mastered so I know how, where, why, and when to change. In high school, the seniors and juniors of all the high schools in my county had to take a special test for this Business and Finance class; a class which was an experiment of last year, which some administration deemed necessary because it caused Seniors and Juniors to do more volunteer work in the community. Nearly every student from every school resented this test, they believed it to be a stupid waste of time, with no real benefit to our lives nor our learning experience. Many of the students did not even study, many cheated, many just did not care. I also despised this test, but I studied for it, received one of the best grades, but on the back of the test I wrote detailed, well-reasoned explanations as to why all the students here, including myself, hated this test. To me, the fact that I received such a good grade gave me credibility to people/authority figures that would have otherwise deemed me as an angsty teenager. My grade means something to me, but it is not what defines me as an entire person. I enjoy achieving high grades, not just for the ‘A’ sake of it, but because I enjoy learning; it just so happens, that usually these two are inextricably intertwined.

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