What is the purpose of grades?

This question came to Zamboni but  I will try and answer, since I am no international man of mystery but just a lowly-worm teacher myself. We are coming to our first progress report time at Berkeley High School, and  soon I will be punching in numbers that become grades  A through F.

Poor like Food Stamps poor? That was me as a kid. Notice how Average is very low. What the hell is so bad about Average?

The weird thing about grades is that the real impact of a kid, and perhaps of a class on that kid,  is the day to day minute to minute experience of those 56 minutes in the room together. But grades don’t reflect the real spirit of that kid in the class, just what he can put to paper

I mean we all hang around in that room, talking and listening, spacing out or in heated debate. We ask and answer questions, write a little, read a little, but their grades usually just reflect the three or four big projects they’ ve done. Sure we figure in some “attendance” and “participation” into the equation, maybe even some “citizenship” – but mostly peoples grades are coming from the written projects, homework and tests. Grading is a nightmare because no one, and I mean no one can agree on how it should be  done.

Do you grade kids based on a common standard? Grade them from where they started, pushing higher-level kids harder than the struggling ones? What’s fair? Grade down and kill self-esteem or inflate grades and unrealistically inflate egos?

And the truth is, we all, most of us, inflate grades ridiculously. A “B” is what the “C” was ages ago, or the “gentleman’s C”. I am struggling against this always, but it’s hard to give the C when you compare it to your neighbors C and they clearly mean different things. A cop out, I know.

I am more confused about the answer to this question than when I began; I’ll have to get Zamboni on this. All I know is that we all like to be rewarded and recognized. Teachers don’t get graded, but I know that if we did I’d feel like a damn failure If I got  a C from my students, run of the mill if I got a B as a teacher, and very proud if they gave me an A.  (But then if I found out all their teachers were given As , would it mean as much? Might I be riddled by doubt?)  D or F would probably just send me into a tailspin of depression and self-help books. I would take it personally even though it wasn’t mean so.

I can’t imagine its too different for them


2 thoughts on “What is the purpose of grades?

  1. Great Zamboni–
    Your blog was unceremoniously hijacked by a lowly high school teacher, who offers empathic conundrums, but no definitive answers. Could you answer this question yourself? What is the purpose of grades?
    Yanush Warrenski

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