Do grades matter?

Cartoon by Gordon Johnson

DOUGLAS ROCHE III | OPINION COLUMNIST | droche@butler.edu

Of course they do.  For as long as academia has been around, grades have been the tool for evaluating and measuring students.  Your grades were the one thing every college you applied to asked for and they serve as the foundation for what type of learner and student you are.  

They tell you what you are good at.  They tell you what you are bad at.  They determine what type of test taker or essay writer you are. Along with several other things of course, they differentiate us from one another in terms of qualification.

It is tough to imagine a world where grading students does not exist, but I often wonder about it.  I find myself questioning not only grades’ purpose, but also their significance.  

Does it promote creative potential or is it just a measurement of diligence and discipline?  Is what we are learning useful in today’s world?  Could academia advance without a grading system?  

Grades helped me figure out what interests me and what does not, but I do not think I am interested in a subject just because I received a good grade.  What I noticed with grades is that in classes I have interest in and can invest myself, I was not as concerned about the grade in that class.  I think this is because students will only forget about grading when they can invest themselves in something where their primary focus is growth.

With that being said, however, there is some correlation between our class grade and our interests simply because it is easy to enjoy something you are good at (hence why it is easier for me to look forward to literally any class more than math).  

But what happens when one receives a bad grade in a class that interests them?  Was taking the class for nothing?  Not necessarily.

If you know you enjoy something, what better way to invest in that thing than with a college course?  Simply by taking and showing up to a class, I think students will at least learn about more about themselves if anything.  

What about the standards and guidelines to which some classes hold students?  Moreover, I do believe minimums and guidelines on essays, for example, could negatively affect a student’s approach towards an assignment.  

When students simply look at the 10-page minimum on their essay rubric, it can be easy for a student to make this their priority, rather than coming up with a thought-provoking, coherent essay. This situation can be difficult to deal with if their ideas do not reach the minimum.  

On the contrary, what if a student goes over the limit on an assignment like the time limit on a speech?  This happened to me in my speech class, which got me thinking a lot more about this topic after I was penalized 10% on my grade for the speech for going about 40 seconds over the time limit.  To me, I would have felt incomplete or dissatisfied with my work if I could not present my entire speech and arguments I researched extensively.  

What I often hear people complain about is the core curriculum requirements for graduation.  All Butler students must have credits in a variety of classes, even if the credits do not go towards your concentration.

The two common stances on this are that it is an opportunity for students to explore several different areas of academia, which can lead students to change their concentration.  The other opinion is that it is time-consuming and a waste of money when a student is 100 percent set on their major.

I find these ideas interesting because both arguments are valid.  Having to take an assortment of classes will expand your horizons and make you a more complete student if you invest yourself in all of your classes, but it can also be difficult to motivate yourself for something you are not passionate about.  

Professor Farhad Anwarzai believes grades still have a place in academia and separating students from others in terms of well roundedness, persistence and investment in work.

“I believe they are still relevant and effective in not only showing the progress a student has made, but also the progress a student still has to make,” Anwarzai said.  “Grades can also be seen as a motive rather than a standard.  When a student enters college, they may think they are working for a grade, but in reality, it is for their growth as a thinker even if they may not know it.”  

Anwarzai believes taking away grades would take away the competition and make it harder for students to separate themselves from their peers, but believes students should be looked deeper into than just a number.  

“The grades matter, but the number does not tell the whole story,” he said.  The classes you are taking matter just as much as the grades you are getting.  Anybody can elect to take easy classes and avoid challenging themselves.  The well roundedness of a student and improvement in not just a student’s grades, but their also their rigor, need to be taken into account along with their GPA.”

Anwarzai does believe grades and creativity do have some correlation.  

“Where creativity comes into the picture is making something tangible out of what a student has learned,” he said.  “I do believe that creativity is also important in a student’s growth.”

This also explains why applicants are typically asked for an essay or statement to go along with test scores, grades, etc.

In terms of what is more important, I do not think one matters more than the other, but both are absolutely necessary.  Even if we do not know it, the material we are learning and skills we acquire in college are more than just a number to separate us from the pack.  They are tools we invest in so we can leave our mark in the workforce and society in general.  

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