How Teachers Cost Students College Scholarships

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Grades shouldn’t be used to sort students.

Yet, we continue to use them to do just that. Recently it was brought to my attention that a mere hundredth of a point in class potentially cost a student acceptance into his top-choice college. As we all know, students applying for college are asked to provide their GPA and supply their class and decile rankings.

So after four years of high school, a student’s worth in the eyes of a college admissions dean often comes down to mere hundredths or thousandths of percentage points.

Even in the competitive, dog-eat-dog world of college acceptance, that doesn’t seem right. The difference between a student in the top 10% and a student just outside the top decile can depend on the freshman English class where one student earned a 90% and another earned a 89.444%. While the difference seems trivial at best, a student’s college acceptance often rides on such minutiae.

Looking deeper into this matter, students college scholarships can come down to any of the following grading policies:

  • How does a teacher calculate and determine grades?
  • Is extra credit accepted?
  • Does the teacher round up?
  • Even something as simple as a teacher’s homework policy comes into play.

Inappropriately, the single, largest variable between a student in the top 10% and one looking in from the outside may not be the student or what he/she learned, but instead the teacher’s grading policy. It’s bad enough that such disparities exist, but for a student’s college acceptance to be determined by a teacher’s grading policy seems inherently unfair.

So how do we fix it? We have two options:

Option 1: Each school should collaboratively develop its own grading policies to ensure that grades indicate the same level of learning in all classrooms.

Option 2: Throw out grades.

Our current system of grading is inherently unfair and only harms students. We should strive to end such an archaic system, and the solution isn’t as difficult as it seems.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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