My Senior Gift Pictorally: UT Diplomas

Grades and Diplomas

"Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby "schooled" to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is "schooled" to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society. Harrow Books: New York, 1970, 1971. pg. 1.

The Problem:

"Grades serve a number of purposes. They help teachers determine how well students have learned from their instruction. They help students learn about their strengths and weaknesses. Grades also inform parents about their children's progress and alert them to problems."

The World Book Encyclopedia. Wolf, Richard M. World Book, Inc. Copyright 1984. Volume 8 (G): GRADING, pg. 287.

It is a long standing tradition that grades are given to an individual for his/her performance in a class (subject or course). The grade represents the "intellectual aptitude" of that student in a particular class. The assumption is that if a student receives an "A" that he/she has mastered the subject. And through this mastery he/she has learned the material, more so than someone in the same class who received a lower grade. On the opposite spectrum, if a student receives a grade of "F" or "E" (depends on the grading scale used), then the student has "failed" the course and has not mastered the subject. Therefore, he/she has not "learned" enough of the material (or the material itself) to be able to move until the course is re-taken and a higher grade is received. Once the higher grade is received, the assumption is that he/she has increased his/her knowledge of the material presented or covered in the course and can proceed. It also implies that the student has "learned."

However one of the major problems that exists with grades is the assumption that "grades" are equivalent to "learning" or amounts of "learning" that has occurred. This assumption would be valid if all components used in the processing of the final grade were based on the amount the student learned and not how well he/she memorized the material.

That's the catch, that is rarely how grades are done, if they were ever done that way. In college, the grading is even more obscure; in that very often the professor/instructor assigns grades in an arbitrary manner. He/she may fail (or give a student a grade lower than what he/she should have received if the grade was based solely on the student's performance in the course) a student does like them. I have heard that there have been students at UT who did not receive grades that were commensurate with their performance in the class because of the student's skin color or ethnic group. (I am not sure if the students were able to get their grade changed to what it should have been or not; that is the joy of "tenure" for professors!).

Then comes the actual grading scale. In some subjects, especially the sciences, the grading scale is altered (it depends on how many students the professor wants to pass and this happens in other subjects too) so that at least half of the students will pass the course. A "curve" is applied throughout many departments and professors to insure that certain students or percentages (similar to that of the science classes) pass. Or a "curve" may be used in some other manner, but regardless, it affects the outcome of people's grades giving students higher grades and in some cases, raising their grades by a WHOLE letter.

"A common method of grading in relation to other students is called grading on the curve.... One system of grading on the curve gives the top 7 per cent of the students an A. The next 24 per cent receive a B, the middle 38 per cent a C, and the next 24 per cent a D. The lowest 7 per cent get an E or F.... Educators do not recommend curve grading for groups of fewer than 100 students or groups with an unusual distribution of ability. [Webmaster's note: most of the classes in which I was graded on the "curve" there were less than 40 students, does this unfairly affect grades?]

The World Book Encyclopedia. Wolf, Richard M. World Book, Inc. Copyright 1984. Volume 8 (G): GRADING, pg. 287.

Next is the "athletic-academic" students who receive lots of "special treatment" (but not all professors condone this attitude or belief). The special treatment sometimes could be assigning "students" (by a coach, the player himself/herself, Athletic Director, or other) to take and pass for an athlete or getting "unethical" tutoring help (when tutoring begins to look a lot like cheating). Or a "athletic-academic" student may receive assistance on tests from professors that constitutes cheating or just giving a grade that the student did not deserve or earn so that the student can be considered "academically eligible." This problem is not a new one. In fact, many students and professors know what's going on, yet they have not intervened to stop it because they feel that it's a part of "the way things are" at UT (or other reasons). "If you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem," right?

I have even heard stories and read reports that the "special treatment" in all of its forms has trickled down to the elementary levels. Money often times is offered to the "athletic-academic" students at various intervals or times to influence their decisions. However, that exceeds the scope of grades.

I have not touched on the cheating that occurs throughout ALL levels of schooling. Cheating, whether during the test or on homework assignments can affect the final grade of a student, usually resulting in a grade higher than would have been received if no cheating had occurred. Even though cheating is to be reported and the person(s) who cheated is/are to fail, rarely does that to happen, and often times, the offense is overlooked and so it continues.

The cheating, special treatment, professor's goals and/or feelings keep grades from displaying how much one has learned. But these are not the only barriers to actually knowing how or if a person has learned anything from the first to the last day of class. Other barriers include often times, the test itself, is it designed to promote memorization (most of the people who do well at memorizing will make the best grades) or does it require the student to THINK (most of the people who do can think will make the best grades)? Then there are the assignments that demonstrate either how well one can copy and not get caught, BS the professor into thinking that he/she knows the subject, or the student only has to find answers within the book. Lastly, there is the final exam, and during my last semester I began to think long and hard about it.

Mainly about it's intended purpose and the actual use of it. Often times, finals are comprehensive and require students to review 10 or more chapters to be able to pass pass the final. If the final is failed, it is possible that the students will fail the class (as well), even though they may have an "A" or "B" going into the final. It depends on much the final exam (test) is worth (percentage wise, e.g., 50%). The catch is that the finals are to demonstrate how much the student has learned over the course of the semester with the emphasis on "learned." But if that is the case, then why aren't finals given back after they are graded so the students can see their mistakes and "learn" from them? I have known no professors/teachers that have allowed students to review their finals (except in special circumstances) after they were graded. Many have a strict policy about students not being able to view their (the students) final. Now if the final is truly about "learning," then there should be an opportunity for students to review and discuss their finals with their professors/teachers/instructors (the same should be done for the other tests as well, but very few like to take precious class time to review and/or discuss tests). I wonder how much students could or would "learn" if they were allowed to review their tests and be able to see (and learn from) their mistakes).

Background to the Solution

The Solution:

What would be the effect of doing away with degrees and grades at UT? Would students attend? Would faculty want to teach here? Would the legislature fund UT? How would a student know when his or her education was completed? Would a UT education be respected? Would students write papers and take exams? Would students use the library?

......Under Construction, check back later.

Last Modified: 13 October 2006 EST