Of Grades and Numbers

Society places too much stock on numbers that we usually equate high grades with intelligence. When I was a student, it was important for me to get good scores out of all my tests. As I moved to higher learning, I realized that there were certain types of exams I was partial to and some others that do not sit well with me. I have talked about the prevalence of rote-memorization tests that I have had when I was a student. And that always reminds me of my Grade 5 History teacher. For her, the best students were those who could repeat verbatim what she says in class. The same went with her exams.

I think that scores do reflect student progress in some ways. This, however, often lead people to attach labels to students, effectively boxing them into categories which can influence assessment (and therefore, subsequent grades).  I have seen teachers who readily give consideration for students who miss a test because that student “performs in class” – that is, that student is known to be one of the “bright ones”. I have also seen how those same teachers can easily dismiss a student’s efforts (or the lack thereof) because they don’t talk in class or usually get poor grades.  On the few occasions that these “slow ones” do get a good grade in a test, their performance even becomes suspect.

Grades serve a purpose of ranking students and reflecting a facet of their learning. However, we need to change our perspectives in how we view these numbers. Acing a test does not always indicate a critical mind. Failing one does not always mean lack of understanding or lack of ability. I believe that when we fail to give our students opportunities to demonstrate what they know in ways that fit them best, we fail them as teachers. Grades should not define people and what things they can or cannot do.