Why Do Grades Matter?

| October 2nd, 2014

Why do we have grades?

While this might seem like a ludicrous question, let’s take a moment and ask ourselves candidly: What are grades for? Most students at Tech know grading and GPA as a high-stress game of “guess-the-curve,” or as a way to measure your academic progress for yourself and compared to others. GPA is also often a way for our parents to decide whether they should reward us with a warm welcome home after finals or a way to set expectations for the following semester.

The original intent of a grading system, to measure a students’ progress in a course and reflect their understanding of the material, has gotten lost in translation for a lot of classes at Georgia Tech. Some courses have final averages as low as the 40s and individual test averages as low as 14. Numbers like these don’t give an accurate reflection of a student’s understanding; they incite panic. Students spend a significant portion of their studying time trying to find old course material and memorize questions rather than gain a holistic understanding of the curriculum.

My point is that while there is a lot of value in a system for reporting a student’s standing, sometimes it overshadows the reason for being at Tech: to prepare a student to enter the workforce, equipped with all the tools necessary to have a successful career. One alternative could be to make the current GPA structure more lenient and reflective of a student’s development rather than their relative standing in a class. In a perfect world, the grading system could be replaced with constructive, individualized professor feedback, and a Georgia Tech degree would speak for itself.  However, due to staffing constraints and a number of other reasons, this won’t happen. Grades are at this institution to create competition and keep students motivated, and they are most likely here to stay. Thoughts?

Comments are highly encouraged for this post. Any thoughts about the grading system at Georgia Tech or alternatives are highly encouraged.


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