For starters, nothing tells a child more clearly that the subject being taught is irrelevant and unnecessary than grades. The mere fact that a child can pass a subject after failing 40% of the material is a strong testimony that a subject is irrelevant. What is even worse is that teachers makes no distinction between essential and non-essential material. For instance, when a teacher gives her students 100 questions and tells them that they only have to answer sixty correct to achieve a passing grade, but it doesn’t matter which sixty they answer, she is in essence saying that none of the material is essential.
Whether he misses the first forty questions, or the last forty, he still passes the test. So here is what the student must subconsciously think, “I can miss question one as long as I get the others right, so question one is not essential to this subject. I can miss question 2 as long as I get the others right, so question 2 is not essential to this subject. I can miss question 3, as long as I get the others right, so question 3 is not essential to this subject. And so on and so on.” In this way, grades undermine the educational system. They devalue the subject, making it appear unimportant and irrelevant.
Image if a teacher only demanded 60% comprehension of the alphabet. Her students wouldn’t be able to read! That is because, every single letter is essential and a 100% mastery must be obtained before students are ready to progress to the next lesson. Imagine an Anatomy test where a student can name every muscles, tendon and bone, but cannot name or describe the function of the brain, heart and lungs. This student may receive a passing grade, but can he really say that he mastered anatomy when he has no idea what the brain, heart and lungs do? Of course not! Why then do we allow children to pass a subject with a mere 60%? One reason is that teachers pack their lessons with so much irrelevant material that students really don’t need to know more than two-thirds of it. So, teachers should limit themselves to teaching and testing only the essential material and then demanding complete mastery. A mere pass or fail grade would show students that all the material is essential.
Grades Discourage Growth
Grades can also be harmful to good students, bad students, and average students. To an A+ student, his A+ represents the epitome of excellence. It falsely suggests that the student could do no better, that he has already achieved perfection. In this way grades harm A students. The B/C/D student is equally harmed by grades. His B’s, C’s, and D’s tell him that his work is average, but acceptable. His grades encourage him to coast, he is good enough. The F student is harmed the most, especially if he is not immediately forced to retake the test. The F student learns that he is a failure – too stupid to pass!
So, here is what we suggest. First, get rid of the fluff. Boil the subjects down to only the most essential material. Then review the material until your children have a 100% mastery of it. When we say 100% mastery, we do not mean that your children can never miss a question. As the parents, you will have to be the ultimate judges. Does your son understand the concept? Does your daughter almost always get the answers right? If they miss a question, can they correct their own mistakes without parental aid? When you ask them to find a country on the map or to name a historical figure, can they do so without hesitation?
There is no final exam. You will simply quiz your children over and over until you feel they have completely mastered the lesson. Then you add more material. That is why you only accept one grade as passing – 100%. To accept less is to sell your children short or to openly admit that what you are teaching really is not that important.