Schools should give grades
Debate Rounds (5)
Wow, that does sound a bit too formal. In any case, I accept.
I await your first argument, Con.
Please do a good job! :-)
Most people involved in schools will say that grades are a sort of feedback for the children, so they know how well they are doing. If this were the case, grading would look much different. It would not be a simple handful of letters -- A's, B's, etc. -- but more nuanced and personalized. All the work the child does gets converted into letters because it is much easier for someone who does not know the child, or for a beaurocracy or a machine, to look at the letters and quickly determine whether the child is a winner or a loser. In addition, if grades were for the child they would be private, and not handed out to school administrators, politicians, and colleges, and kept on record for everyone to see for all time.
Most people say that they want all children in schools to learn everything the schools are trying to teach them. But if any teacher ever achieved this, and all the children learned everything, she would have to give them all A's. But if she did that, she would get complaints from administrators, from parents, saying it must be a joke, you're not taking your job seriously, you need to be harder on the kids. In a school where everyone gets A's, an A is useless for helping a kid get into college or get a good job. From John Holt's "Instead of Education":
"At another college a teacher told me that his department head told all members of the department that experience had shown that only a certain small percentage of students deserved A's, a slightly larger percentage B's, a few more C's, and so on, and that any department member who gave much higher grades than these would be considered to be "sabotaging" -- his word -- the grading system. Such experiences are common."
See, grades are not feedback at all, but a way to rank children. They turn school from a place of learning to a place of performing. Children must always be on guard to perform their best. If you were learning to play the guitar for the first time, how would you feel if your teacher brought a clipboard and spent the lesson busily making marks? How about if the lesson took place in front of an audience? You would not feel comfortable experimenting or exploring, both of which are necessary precursors to learning. Learning should not and cannot be a performance.
Because the ultimate goal of school is to earn a grade, a child who can find a way to earn the grade without learning will not learn. This could take the form of cheating, but it doesn't need to; there are plenty of legal ways to circumnavigate learning. Children in schools are always thinking, "What does the teacher want me to say?" not "How do I solve this problem?" They can watch the teacher for clues about what he wants. They can figure out how to do the specific problems on the test rather than developing a true understanding of how to solve problems. They can commit solutions to short-term memory just before a test. All children in all schools do these things all the time, except perhaps the extremely gifted.
First and foremost, I contend that grades are different from feedback and that they're useful in school.
Perhaps it is best to review the history of grades:
"About two hundred years ago, society began asking educators to tell them how much the student has learned. Somebody somewhere - probably at Oxford or Cambridge in the late 1700s - came up with the system of giving the best learners A's, the next best B's, and so forth. It was just a system of shorthand that was supposed to describe how well people think. Through most of the 1800s, schools in England and the United States used only two grades. You either got credit for taking a certain course or your didn't. But by the late 1800s, schools had adopted range of grades from A to F, from one to ten, or some other scale. In the twentieth century they added pluses and minuses." 
Having provided the history of grades for context, I will now delve into my arguments.
1. Grades are useful tools.
Given the quick pace of school and the necessity to evaluate whether students have learned the material, it is only right that grades should be divvied out according to the merit of each student. Multiple grades offer a more realistic spectrum of achievement compared to the older model of pass/fail grading. Instead of being failed for even narrowly missing the threshold, student can take comfort in know that they will still pass the class with a C grade.
Another element of grades is that they can be easily stored and compared against each other. Hence, the GPA. Every letter grade is assigned a numerical equivalent and the average thereof determines a student's overall effort, learning, and scholastic success. This is probably the most efficient model of grading to date.
2. Grades are the status quo.
It is worth mentioning that grades are the current currency of academics. From middle-school to high-school, high-school to undergraduate college, undergraduate college to graduate college, grades permeate the modern structure of education.
Grades can be improved, perhaps, but not abolished without serious ramifications
Here I will dismantle Con's arguments piece by piece.
1. "Grades are a sort of feedback for the children."
I disagree for good reason. Grades are ratings/rankings. They primarily serve an administrative function. Besides, letter grades hardly tell students anything. Rather, the teacher's notes in the margins consist the feedback. All the red ink in addition to the letter grade is the feedback.
2. "See, grades are not feedback at all, but a way to rank children."
Agreed. That's exactly why grades exist.
3. "Learning should not and cannot be a performance"
But are real-world jobs based on how well your perform? Why should schools mirror what the real-world demands so that students will better understand the expectations upon their graduation?
4. "Children in schools are always thinking, 'What does the teacher want me to say?' not 'How do I solve this problem?'"
Well, that depends. If it's a history, government, literature, etc. class, then subjectivity does exist which may compel a student to copy the teacher in order to maximize the final grade. Yet, in more objective classes (like mathematics and hard sciences), the teachers' biases are largely irrelevant.
Still, Con raises a good point. There are problems with grades that must be addressed and can, I believe, be reformed. Still, Con's arguments do not show the need to abolish the grade system. At the very most, Con has only proven that reform is necessary.
Thanks for reading; I highly anticipate the following rounds.
 Ken Bain. "What the Best College Students Do" London: Harvard UP, 2012. (p. 7)
You argue that a system with letter grades is superior to a pass/fail system. This is irrelevant to the discussion in my opinion, because they are both grading systems and I am arguing for no grading system at all, not even pass/fail.
As for grades being the status quo, you are very correct. Other structural changes to our schools, as well as changes to society's attitudes toward school, may be necessary in order for a grade-free system to work.
So much for your arguments. Now for your refutations.
First, you've misquoted me. I never claimed that grades are feedback for children, I only said that people think that grades are feedback for children. So on refutations 1 and 2, we do indeed agree and I don't think we need to go there anymore.
To paraphrase your refutation #3: "Schools should mirror what the real world demands so that students will better understand the expectations upon their graduation." This is a strong argument and is difficult to counter. It is, however, merely a post hoc justification for a system that was developed for other, more pernicious, reasons.
I'll return once more to the guitar lessons metaphor. Suppose you were learning to play the guitar because you wanted to become a rock star. By your logic, the best way to prepare yourself for the rigors of a rock performance would be to carry out all your lessons on a stage with a microphone in front of hundreds of people. At the very least, you would be so self-conscious that you would not be able to focus on the work at hand. You would also feel a pressure to hurry up and impress somebody, so you could not take whatever time is necessary to learn the instrument properly. As I said earlier, learning cannot be a performance.
To paraphrase your refutation #4: "In more objective classes (like mathematics and hard sciences) the teachers' biases are largely irrelevant." This is absolutely not true. Even if there is exactly one right answer, it is still possible for a student to infer the answer from the teacher without understanding why it's right.
The other day I was tutoring a sixth-grade girl who needed to solve a difficult algebra homework problem. She had seen the teacher perform similar problems and knew the motions to go through to get the solution, but it was clear from the questions I asked her that she did not understand what any of it meant. She will turn the assignment in and if she gets it wrong, she will try again until she gets it right. Anyway, what little she does know she probably will forget in a few weeks, and in the future it's unlikely she will be able to solve even slightly different problems. What was the point of all her hard work then?
You say that you believe the grading system can be reformed. Can you describe your ideal grading system? I might take a stab at demonstrating why even a reformed grading system is inferior to no grades at all.
1. "This is irrelevant... I am arguing for no grading system at all, not even pass/fail."
I supposed the resolution could be interpreted that way. To make it easy, I won't challenge you on that point.
2. "You've misquoted me..."
Not intentionally. I suppose you're right though. You think grades aren't feedback, but rather rankings. I'll keep that in mind.
3. "It is, however, merely a post hoc justification for a system that was developed for other, more pernicious, reasons."
The modern public education system is based largely off of the work of secularist John Dewy. Instead of teaching the classics (formal logic, Latin, arithmetic, etc.), Dewy argued that schools need to adjust their curriculum to meet with the times. Heavily influence by Darwin, Dewy thought that education should evolve with the needs of society.
Also, the public education system is modeled on the Prussian paradigm (i.e. conveyor-belt education). The system is designed to churn out workers for real-world industry, rather than academics (College was originally geared for producing academics). In effect, every student is given the same classes, same material regardless of personal interests so that conformity is present to perpetuate the workforce.
Are these the "pernicious" reasons you are referring to? Con, please elucidate your point.
In any case, I do not see how real-world experience is a "post hoc justification" for grading in public schools when the two (real world work and public school) have existed concurrently for over two centuries together. It is not as if one was invented to justify the other. Rather, as my historical context excerpt notes, society demanded that schools measure students' learning.
Con even admitted that my real world experience argument "is a strong [one] and is difficult to counter." Given my refutation, this is probably my strongest argument so far and also the voters' best reason to vote for my side.
4. "I'll return once more to the guitar lessons metaphor."
Actually, it's an analogy, not a metaphor. But I'll let that nuanced distinction slide for now.
On the substance, this analogy does not take into account multiple factors to the contrary.
First, some may excel through competition.
Secondly, school is hardly equivalent to a rock music concert. There are exponentially less people and, moreover, the people in the classroom are not an audience. Rather, they are your peers. They're fellow students or, in this analogy, musicians.
Thirdly, while some students may be so shy as to suffer in the classroom, there are alternative that still involve grading, like online school or homeschooling.
5. "[It] is still possible for a student to infer the answer from the teacher without understanding why it's right."
That is the student's fault. There is a name for that: laziness. Alternatively, the politically correct term is "shallow learning". Either way, it is not the teacher's fault that some student fail to grasp objective truth. Even if the teacher is horrible at his/her job, there are still resources that the student can use to understand (i.e. his/her textbook, online sources like Khan Academy, or tutoring.) There is no excuse for a student to fail in this case.
6. "The other day I was tutoring a sixth-grade girl..."
Ok. Nice anecdotal. But your student exemplifies my counterargument. She is a shallow learner. Unless she has a intellectual disability or other hindrance, she is probably lazy. She need to study until she gets it. But she is only in the sixth grade. She is young and still has the potential.
Additionally, because I cannot discredit a personal story, your anecdotal constitutes no evidence in support of your side.
7. "Can you describe your ideal grading system?"
That is not my responsibility. Further, doing so would shift us in an entirely different debate.
Let's just debate this topic and not get sidetracked.
It seems we've gotten sidetracked from the original issue, which is grades. The grading system was not designed to prepare students for the workforce. If there is a similarity between the way schools work and the way the workplace works, it is pure coincidence. We use the current grading system only because it is the most efficient system we have for pigeonholing children. What I meant by "pernicious" is that this pigeonholing is not for the benefit of the children, but for the benefit of everyone else. It is pretense to argue that grades are designed to help prepare children for their lives. If grades did help children, and I don't think they do, it would be purely accidental.
"School is hardly equivalent to a rock music concert. There are exponentially less people and, moreover, the people in the classroom are not an audience. Rather, they are your peers."
Again, we've gotten sidetracked from the issue, which is grades. In a classroom, the audience is not your peers, it is your teacher, principal, parents, prospective colleges, future employers... Everyone you will ever encounter in a professional setting is judging you, right now, while you're trying to learn new things. It may in fact be hundreds of people.
"Con even admitted that my real world experience argument "is a strong [one] and is difficult to counter." Given my refutation, this is probably my strongest argument so far and also the voters' best reason to vote for my side."
Yes, it is difficult to counter, and yet I seemed to have countered it. In any case, I didn't come here to grub for votes, I came here to find the truth.
"That is the student's fault. There is a name for that: laziness. Alternatively, the politically correct term is "shallow learning". ... There is no excuse for a student to fail in this case."
This "shallow learning" is not laziness, nor is it even failure. It is success, and that is the problem. Our idea of success in school, as a society, is making A's, and it is possible to make A's (that is, succeed), without actually learning anything. The problem is that we as a society accept this and go along with it. If we all accept it and encourage it, how can we expect the children to go against it? We can't.
This girl, if she continues on this path to "success," will learn nothing from school, and will be no better equipped, on account of school, to deal with the challenges of work and life. However, she will still get into a better college, and therefore get a better job and earn more respect, and thus achieve actual success, all thanks to her A's. Learning factors into this nowhere. That is the problem.
I forgot that there is a stringent character count and ran out of space.
Nevertheless, here it is:
1. Grades are necessary for college and beyond.
Researchers have found that GPA works in conjunction with aspiration to produce post-secondary education outcomes. 
Thus, without grades as a differentiator and motivator, students only have their aspirations to guide them. This might sound good until it is recognized that employers rely, even partially, on grades to ascertain job applicants' merit.
I have one more argument as well:
2. Grades reward hard-working students.
Humans are not born the same. Each is born with different abilities and talents. Some are, quite frankly, better than others. Thus, the "A" rewards the effort of the diligent and the "F" rewards the effort of the lazy. To remove grades would be to make all students equal regardless of their input. All of them - in spite of their effort - will receive the same diploma and recognition as each other on graduation day. Without grades or standards to differentiate the achievement of students, schools will likely experience a "Race to the Bottom" problem in which all of the student compete to get by doing the least amount of work.
Now, for refutations:
1. 'The grading system was not designed to prepare students for the workplace. If there is [any] similarity between the way schools and the way the workplace works, it is pure coincidence."
To contrary, the grading system reflects real-world expectations insofar as annual reviews work. Employees should be well aware of the fact that they are graded on performance usually every year and that that review largely determines their salary and statues within the company. Now, compared to the classroom model, there is lots of obvious overlap. A syllabus or schedule outlines the students' responsibilities. Then, the teacher assigns a grade based on the percentage of completed tasks and the quality thereof. That grade, in turn, determines who passes the class and, ultimately, contributes to collegiate outcomes vis-"-vis the GPA.
Even if it is a coincidence, it is a beneficial coincide to maintain because grades mirror real-world expectations.
2. "If grades did help children, and I don't think they do, it would be purely accidental."
I made a distinction early on in this debate that Con seems to have forgotten. Grades are administrative in function. Feedback (the teachers' copious notes in the margins of your assignments) is to help students. Con confuses the respective purposes of the two is arguing that grades should be abolished because they don't help students. But that is not the primary task of grades, just as employee reviews do not necessarily help employees.
3. "In a classroom, the audience is not your peers..."
Well, then, the audience is comparatively small. Those who are intimidated by teachers, colleges, etc. are relatively small as well. After all, college enrollment is at an all-time high.  How would that be true if everyone avoided teachers, colleges, etc.?
4. "I seemed to have countered it."
Not at all. Con's counterargument was to repeat his flawed musician analogy. (See Round 3 for why it's flawed)
5. "Shallow learning is not laziness... It is success."
Not so. Learning in school is cumulative, meaning that material has to be remembered for success in future classes. Thus, grades are a motivator for perpetuating retention of information. By contrast, without grades, why should students try to learn if they're going to get a diploma in the end anyway? There's no incentive anymore.
Thanks for reading; I look forward to Round 5.
 Christofides, Louis N.1, et al. "Grades, Aspirations, And Postsecondary Education Outcomes." Canadian Journal Of Higher Education 45.1 (2015): 48-82. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 6 Mar. 2016. (P. 51)
Regarding your "real-world expectations" argument (your refutation #1), almost all of your argument amounts to agreeing with me that the resemblance between schools and the workplace is a coincidence. Then at the end you say, "Even if it is a coincidence, it is a beneficial coincide to maintain because grades mirror real-world expectations." As I have illustrated with my musician example, for a learning environment to mirror the real world often has disastrous consequences.
"I made a distinction early on in this debate that Con seems to have forgotten. Grades are administrative in function. ... Con confuses the respective purposes of the two is arguing that grades should be abolished because they don't help students."
Funny you should say this, because both of the new arguments you made in this round ("grades are necessary for college and beyond" and "grades reward hard-working students") argue that the function of grades is to help students. You also make the same argument in part of your refutation, and you made the same argument in the previous round (that's why I refuted it -- I didn't "forget" anything).
Now I must admit I'm a bit confused, because you are contradicting yourself. I will try to ignore this and address your arguments as they come. Anyway I'm glad you decided to argue that grades are useful to students, because that's what most people believe and I was hoping to get the chance to refute it.
You make essentially the same argument in three places:
1. "without grades as a differentiator and motivator, students only have their aspirations to guide them"
2. "grades reward hard-working students"
3. "grades are a motivator for perpetuating retention of information"
I am going to lump them all together for my refutation. The essence of your argument is that grades are a motivator and that without grades, there would be no motivation for students to do any work at all ("schools will likely experience a "Race to the Bottom" problem in which all of the students compete to get by doing the least amount of work").
I first want you to recognize that this is purely an assumption on your part, unless you have actually seen a grade-free school suffer from this problem. As a matter of fact, there are lots of grade-free schools, and there have been since the late 1960's, and none of them on record have ever experienced a "Race to the Bottom" problem.
An example is the Sudbury Valley School, which has more than 30 imitators across the world and gives no grades or rankings of any kind. From my source: "90% of graduates end up going to college. That's better than the national average of 66% (from the same income bracket). More interestingly, 42% of graduates end up becoming entrepreneurs."  
You can visit my sources for insight into how it works, but in essence, believe it or not, children have an intrinsic, inborn drive to learn, which we (almost) universally stamp out with school. I like to imagine a lunch lady who feeds her kids by shoving food into their mouths; naturally the kids resist and spit the food out. But a lunch lady who has only ever seen kids eat this way might conclude that kids just don't like food.
I hope I have demonstrated in this debate that grades have a detrimental effect on children's learning, and that a grade-free system is a viable alternative. First I showed that the purpose of grades is to help teachers, administrators, etc., not children. Then I showed that in a graded system children are motivated to circumnavigate real learning in order to get grades. I also argued that grades transform the classroom from a place of learning into a place of performance, which makes stressful what should be a fun and exciting journey of discovery. Finally, I offered a real-world example of children succeeding in school without grades.
First, let me briefly refute Con's arguments from Round 4:
1. "...the resemblance between schools and the workplace is a coincidence."
More or less, I agree with you. While some schools may be entirely coincidental, I would still maintain that others (e.g. trade schools) do focus on preparing their students for the real world.
2. "...you are contradicting yourself [on the purpose of grades]..."
Let me reconcile my two statements. While grades do mostly serve an administrative role, they also simultaneously function as a motivator for most students. After all, what driven student doesn't want an "A" on his resume? Yes, I did seem to contradict myself. Hopefully that clarified what I meant.
3. "The essence of your argument is that grades are a motivator and that with grades, there would be no motivation for students to do any work at all."
Con's summary is almost 100% correct. Con slightly misrepresented me because I didn't say students would have no motivation if grades were removed. To the contrary, I said that personal aspiration would still remain. Other than that, Con correctly paraphrased my arguments.
Responding to Con's counterargument,
"There are lots of grade-free schools.... and none of them on record have ever experienced a 'Race to the Bottom' problem."
First of all, that's a very bold claim. Can Con really prove that "none of them" have ever run into difficulty?
Con would need to provide evidence for this claim which, fortunately for me, was not submitted.
Secondly, judging by Con's sources, many - if not all - grade-free schools are private schools. As such, private schools charge more for tuition and have more control over their curriculum. They can afford to, well, experiment.
The Sudbury Valley School that Con cited is not analogous. Not only does this school not having a grading system, but it also has "no academic requirements, no curriculum, and no tests." Moreover, this school charges parents $8,200 a year for tuition!  How many parents nowadays can afford $8,200 each year, possibly per each student? Clearly, this is a extremely lenient school that caters to upper-class families. This is not a viable replacement for American education.
This resolution would not affect these private schools, Rather, they would affect public schools. Trying to compare private and public schools for solutions is not that easy because of the differentiating variables between them.
Abolishing all grading paradigms across the United States public school system would result in a "Race to the Bottom" because grades are the only items that make public schools respectable. Unlike private schools, public schools are reliant on taxpayer dollars and are thusly on shoestring budgets. Public schools cannot afford to experiment on their reputations. Even as I write, the public schools' reputations hang on an ever thinning thread. Therefore, abolishing all grading systems would severely damage public schools and, by extension, their dependent students.
Without grades, student have no reasons to study hard at a worthless school.
So, in conclusion, a few crystalizing questions:
1. Do grades harm students?
Hardly! The majority of students either care deeply about their grades or are apathetic (i.e. they don't care and, therefore, aren't harmed). Only a handful would be self-conscious enough and, honestly, terrible enough to be harmed by grades.
2. Should learning be performance driven?
Learning should be tailored to the real-world, unless we want to institutionalize the proverbial "Ivory Tower."
Since the real world is performance driven, it follows that education should be as well.
3. Should grades be abolished?
No. Perhaps reformed, but not abolished.
For all of these reasons, I deserve to win.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by didorus 7 months ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro wins.
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