In modern American society, there is a consensus on the school system being flawed, especially in students’ opinions. From core curriculum becoming a political issue to complaints about academics focusing on impractical subjects, a negative perspective on the education system is not recent news. However, as the pandemic continues to hinder the possibility of society returning to America’s social state before the virus, schools must plan creative, contemporary methods to continue education. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is planning to reopen public schools in September, but definitely with precautions such as staggered schedules and limited times a week in the classroom. While having a conversation about these plans with a Long Island public school teacher, I started to understand the real issues the teacher suggested that schools should address during the pandemic. These problems have been integrated into the US education system for decades now, and since drastic changes are inevitable, schools should make drastic changes to these issues. Although some people believe the current grading system helps compare students throughout the United States, these academic structures are outdated, and school systems should take the COVID-19 Pandemic as an opportunity to reconstruct structures such as standardized testing, the bell curve, and grades and evaluation.
Standardized Testing Wastes Time and Money
The inaccuracy of standardized testing at evaluating the merit of a student in the past few years has become a hot topic in academics and the college application process. Unfortunately, these tests that do not measure educational quality are taught because they are so integral to application processes (of specific secondary schools and colleges). Students spend months preparing for tests like the SAT and ACT that do not have an equivalent in a genuine workplace. Concepts like mathematics and reading comprehension are useful in the workplace; however, the methodology of the standardized tests downgrades complex reading and writing skills into multiple-choice questions. These skills are supposed to be applied in a real-world context, and when it becomes more of a guessing game on this test, students do not even learn the main concept. When will a workplace exercise process of elimination or finding keywords rather than reading and understanding an idea? Rarely to never. In short, much time allocated for standardized testing could be used to motivate student development by supporting growth, reflection, and improvement. Additionally, a for-profit company (the College Board or ACT) dictating the K-12 curriculum in the US’s public schools is a problematic portrayal of education; students should be profiting from school, not companies.
Assumption of the Bell-Curve Hurts Students
The bell-curve, a graphical depiction of a normal probability distribution, is a very common instrument used in education nowadays; however, this graph has many implications that could damage student growth. Even if instructors do not use a bell-curve, it is so popular that teachers assume there are a majority of average students and a scarce number of “exceptional” and “disadvantaged” pupils. These labels can psychologically inhibit a child’s academic growth because of the Pygmalion effect. In summary, the effect is a phenomenon that perpetuates the expected behavior of an individual, especially in a teacher-student relationship. For example, if a teacher implicitly expects a student not to excel for whatever reason, they may not focus a lot of energy on that student, allowing for not noticing improvement when it matters, perpetuating the student’s lack of motivation and effort. The Pygmalion effect can also perpetuate the achievement of students who are expected to excel. While it’s good that those students are succeeding, disadvantaged students are struggling and need help because teachers give more attention to exceptional students.
Grades Kill Creativity
We commonly hear industry lament that American schools cannot develop creative students, but only our one-and-done grading system is to blame for this phenomenon. To clarify, a student’s grade is too reliant on every individual assignment because if they fail one important task, it could ruin their final term score. In order for anybody, let alone students, to become creative is by taking risks; the expectation that students should take risks is unrealistic because they always have to consider if it might blemish their “perfect GPA” or not. This is an institution that creates timid, cautious students rather than confident, progressive ones. These reasons outweigh any preference of the GPA system because it only helps the top students; so, that preference likely leans towards the top students or their parents. This is especially true when many public schools have rankings for students compared to their peers in their grade; it is great for the exceptional students, but pointless or demeaning for the majority of students, having the opposite effect of helping students improve.
Argument Against GPA
Most to all schools use the GPA (grade point average) system, with some different changes in special cases. However, the basic concept stays the same: a system of scores that compares and evaluates every student in a similar fashion. People like this system because it is more objective than written reports, and it shows a student’s academic skill against others. Although there are people who like the current grading system, that number will always be a minority because it is only advantageous when it shows that you are better compared to others. That exclusive minority that benefits from the grading system creates inequality, which further brings up more problems such as– like I said before– killing creativity and perpetuating underachievement. These problems far outweigh any argument for the grading system because of the sheer number of students that pass without learning and need genuine support.
First, our society should eliminate businesses from controlling standardized testing or move the testing to civil society or the government sector. This way, either the school system itself or, if third-party benefits are necessary (e.g. genuine purpose is to test important skills rather than try to profit), a non-profit organization can control testing. Schools can spearhead this initiative by not allowing present-day standardized tests to be so integral in academics. Thankfully, the pandemic has helped this effort in a major way as The College Board is undergoing a lawsuit for their AP testing distribution, and many universities are becoming test-optional. Hopefully, this push can lead to a future without these tests that evaluate such discreet skills.
On the other hand, schools can solve the grading issue by focusing on helping students reach their personal bests and not use numerical/graphical data to compare them. As described above, the Pygmalion effect and telling students they are not good at something is unmotivating, especially for younger students. This can hinder an individual’s ability to learn as their expectation to underachieve is perpetuated. Instead, testing students on an individual basis to support them to achieve their personal best scores is motivating and helpful in other areas as well (reflection is a crucial life skill). Schools should eliminate all public forms of pupil comparison to help aim attention at assisting students to excel. Another example from a Stanford article suggests an alternative to the current grading system. In summary, the system focuses on motivating students and discouraging cheating as well as reflecting on learning outcomes in a system of high-standard passing. High-standard passing is a legitimate alternative because many low-passing and even high-passing students rarely retain class information. If the standard of passing was much higher, schools could mitigate competition for better grades, eliminating academically–suppressing issues like toxic social competition for grades. Hopefully, schools in the US recognize these issues during a time for reform and invention to better improve education.