The Case for Not Giving Grades

A University of Georgia professor is being ridiculed for a class where students may assign themselves whatever grade they choose.

Unsurprisingly, it is the most recent illustration of how schools are becoming increasingly meaningless, with a bachelor’s degree being nothing more than proof that one has spent all that money.

Furthermore, there are probably valid justifications for supporting grades. Few of us would go to work every day if we didn’t get paid; grades are students’ wages. When they have to get a good grade, most students study more and thus learn more.

Although it is seldom debated, a case can be made for removing grades, except on a comprehensive test that must be passed to graduate. (See the last section of this article.)

Extrinsic motivation is low compared to intrinsic motivation. We prefer that our kids act appropriately because they feel it is the proper thing to do rather than to get a reward or stay out of trouble. After all, we are urged to act morally throughout our lives even when there are no apparent adverse effects. When grades are eliminated, incentive shifts from extrinsic to intrinsic.

And if the teacher does their job—teaching content that is crucial to the students’ lives in an engaging manner and giving them projects that matter to them—many students will put in a lot of effort. Professors may get away with providing bad education by assigning grades since most students will make a significant effort to get a passing mark, even in the worst-taught courses.

Because of this, many students skip class, utilize Cliff’s Notes, cheat on tests, and purchase term papers. This lucrative business would go away if there were no grades and students had to pass the detailed graduation exam outlined below to get a diploma.

Of course, some students lack the maturity to work diligently while receiving poor marks, and to be honest, when I was in college, one professor told us that we would all receive As, and as a result, I did work less. But it’s debatable whether abolishing grades would result in more net benefit.

The desire to lessen student stress makes the argument for scrapping grades stronger. There is more pressure on college students nowadays than we would realize. Many students who struggle in high school are being forced into college, where they often struggle despite their best efforts. Unfortunately, not attending college is seen as a road to second-class citizenship. Ironic, considering the skilled tradesperson deserves at least as much respect as the ordinary career-undertrained bachelor’s degree holder from Podunk State.

Additionally, the future for all college students is more complicated than it was for the preceding generation. Housing and college are considerably more expensive these days, and finding a decent career is more complicated. The Damoclean swords of automation and offshore hang close to workers’ necks, and white-collar positions increasingly rely on technical and soft abilities.

The diploma test

A test verifying bachelor’s-level proficiency in reading, writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, citizenship, connoisseurship, and one’s major should be needed before students get a bachelor’s degree. Although taking a test with such high stakes would undoubtedly be unpleasant, ensuring that the diploma is worth more than the printed paper is essential.

But criticizing a professor for daring to conduct an experiment that will increase intrinsic motivation while lowering student stress by allowing students to assess themselves in one subject is excessively piety. I’d want to see an experiment where one of the nation’s failing universities gets rid of all grades except for that one comprehensive test.

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