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True meaning of grades lost in fight for an A

Issue date: 1/30/09 Section: Opinion
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To the Editor:

I agree with the concerns raised in your Jan. 23 editorial on a potential [grading system] change at the university.

As it stands now, there is already "grade begging," cramming, and massive stress at the junctures between two letter grades, such as A versus B. Throughout my five years at the university, I have seen, on more than one occasion, students fight with or beg their professors for that extra 0.726 percent so they can get an A instead of a B. If we further divide the grades into plus and minus varieties, I can only imagine how much these issues will increase.

More importantly, however, we must remember what the point of grades is. Grades are the ultimate form of feedback. They are the opinion of an expert on your mastery of the material that expert presented you. When we wrangle and fight over plus and minus grades and we beg and cry and fret over A versus B, the true value of grading escapes us. The point is not in possessing the grades - they are just letters, in part arbitrary - but in gaining the knowledge and skills that underlie them.

Getting a B+ instead a B on your transcript doesn't alter the feedback and training you got from that course. If a professor says you got a B+ and you are frustrated that you are lumped in with the regular B's on the transcript, you have entirely missed the point of that professor's feedback to you. The unhealthy focus of students at CWRU on grades, as evinced by the endless debate on plus and minus grading, is reflective of the improper priorities placed by our student body on grades.

When grades are about getting feedback from your professor and learning, there is no need for 10 official levels of division. When they are about competition, beating your peers, and fighting to look the absolute best you can to someone else, they have lost both their internal meaning to you, the student, and their real value.

Thomas A. Rehman
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Page 1 of 1

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