Our system (might be) broken

Our current grading system seems to only cater towards certain individuals and learning types.

Look at where you are standing. Look at where you just picked up this copy of The Oracle. More likely than not, you are on Hamline’s campus. A college campus. You are inhabiting a space that, without the education system, would cease to exist. Because of this, we are all cogs in the education machine. We are the students, and above us are the faculty and then the administration. We get a check mark next to our name if we do something right. We get a big red “x” if we don’t. We pass with As, and we fail with Fs. That is how it has always been. But is that how it always should be?

Growing up in the public school system, I never questioned much. I woke up promptly at 6:45 every morning, occasionally grabbed breakfast as I ran out the door and went to school for 7 hours a day. It was a routine that I fell into easily. I can’t recall a time where I ever resisted it. I accepted it, knowing that eventually I would graduate and I could go on to college. Then, college came. Naturally, a pattern began to grow in my schedule and the things I became involved in. Just like the high school version of myself, it didn’t faze me. The routine became me. As I reflect on this now, it becomes clear that I have always been comfortable being a student. It is a role that I don’t challenge.

By extension, then, I trusted the way that our grading system is set up. If the educators are implementing an A-F grading scale, they must know what they are doing. If they are telling me how many sick days or family emergencies I can have before it affects my grade, they must know what they are doing. If they don’t curve a test that everyone clearly did horribly on, they must know what they are doing. I could go on and on, but I digress. Something feels off here, does it not? Why is this system something that I have never questioned before?

        Education cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy. There is no way that one way of learning and implementation can work on a wide scale. I am not the best person to look at this objectively, but luckily I surround myself with some pretty intelligent people who happen to be going to school for teaching. My roommate Morgan Fox is a junior at Hamline. She is studying Psychology and Elementary Education, and is the Lead Tutor over at Hamline Elementary School. She agrees with the point I brought up earlier about the flaws in a be-all-end-all education policy.

“I think there is favoritism in the traditional grading system,” Fox said. “This system only takes into account someone’s ability to score well on traditional school work (exams, presentations, projects) but it doesn’t always take into account someone’s contributions to class discussions.”

She is onto something here. A holistic grading approach can change an entire classroom dynamic. In my experience as an English major, I always appreciate when class participation is included on the syllabus. Interacting with my classmates helps me learn, and I’m not just saying that because I am a terrible test taker (which is in fact a real thing, thank you very much).

Along the lines of that, Fox goes on to say: “I think grades shouldn’t just be an indication of how someone does on a test but a representation of all things education measures.” I understand how something like this could be difficult to implement in a college setting. The reality is, not all students share the same motivation. Some may never show up to class and just go in for the tests, and some may go to class every day but suffer during exam time. It is unbalanced, but there has to be more than one way to showcase so many different approaches.

My friend Emma Hamilton is an English and Secondary Education major who works with The Snelling Connection at Hamline Elementary. “All students come from different backgrounds,” she said. “While grading students on things like class participation, attendance and even course work like papers or tests seem like it it is including all students, these parameters might leave some students behind.”

        When it comes down to it, no decision is perfect. “Making sure every students’ learning style and cultural background is nurtured is incredibly important,” Hamilton continued. “Unfortunately, it is not done enough in the school system.” Just like the catch-all system that is currently implemented, there is no golden, flawless approach. My argument is that we have multiple solutions for multiple learning types. It is not foolproof, but it is a start. Sometimes, a start is all you can hope for.