Changing the Grading System in U.S. Education (Future of the University Blog Post)

Grading in the U.S. is very inflated. In many schools, an A – the top 10% of the 0-100 grading distribution – is what is needed to be considered “good”. However, being in the top 10% should be considered stellar, not adequate. Even the more traditional “good” being set at a B – the top 15% of the grading distribution – seems misguided. And yet a B average is what most American professors set when utilizing a bell curve. A B average is almost an oxymoron, as the average should be at the midpoint of a distribution, so at 50. By artificially creating range restriction in our grading system, our grading system is not accurately depicting the capabilities of our students. The true top 15% achievers are being lumped in with often the top half or more. As a result, error plays a larger role in defining the top of the class. For a concrete example, a silly mistake will knock down a student’s ranking more with only a few percentage points separating the entire top half of the class. Additionally, the true top achievers fail to shine. Not being able to identify true top achievers compromises the purpose of a grading system – enabling organizations and schools to recognize and recruit talent. On the other side, the true bottom 15% (or even the bottom 50%) suffer more because unlike the top half, they do not benefit from being lumped in with the higher performers. In other words, they do stand out clearly from the rest. One could argue that the middling group also suffers from this system because they have less incentive to try harder. Therefore, they miss out on the learning opportunities that accompany putting in maximal motivation and effort.

Making this change will be wildly difficult, though, because it will need to be a sweeping, nationwide change. The change will need to be made across all age levels and across all types of institutions. If it is not made by everyone, then there will be many problems. First, only the students in schools who shift their average to the actual middle (i.e., 50) will suffer as their grades will appear lower than those of students following the current system. Second, recruiters and those needing to evaluate students will have a less accurate gauge on student performance due to using multiple measurement schemes. Third, student will likely be confused if they switch from one grading system to another and will similarly suffer from not having a clear gauge on what “good performance” is. There would need to be a nationwide cultural shift to make this process run smoothly and effectively.

One Reply to “Changing the Grading System in U.S. Education (Future of the University Blog Post)”

  1. Thank you for your post! I agree, there should be a change on the national grading system. Our current grading system is just putting a lot of pressure on students, and for some classes it is literally impossible to know 90%, 80%, or even 70% of the information. We cannot expect our students to make As and Bs, and participate in extracurricular activities in order to be well-rounded. If I am not mistaken, I think some countries already have a grading scale that is similar to the one you desire.

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