Should Teachers Allow Students to Choose Their Own Grade?

by on August 20, 2015

I looked into the piercing blue eyes of my ninth grade Earth Science educator, Mr. Limmer. He had quite recently made a startling inquiry. I had heard the bits of gossip, yet I accepted they were only that. Yet, here he was, the inquiry as yet floating unanswered noticeable all around, trailed by an unspeakable, practically spiritualist quiet. “OK, Kreusch, what grade do you think I should give you for this marking quarter?” I stuttered, I stammered, I totally froze. Had I been younger, I might have wet myself. Earth Science was a weakness of mine. I had failed quite a few tests but held my own in classwork, homework, and participation. The number 46 popped into my head. No!

“82?” I meekly postulated. He stared intently at me, his eyes somehow becoming more piercing. They softened, just a touch. “You got it,” he murmured. My shock is still apparent to this day, which begs the question: Should a teacher really take this path? What are the negative ramifications if a teacher, gradebook, be cursed, allows a student to literally choose their own grade?

1.) The Power Shift

The authority figure in the classroom, first and foremost, should always be the teacher. The educator is the sole purveyor of knowledge; this individual is feeding the seeds of wisdom upon the student. Heck, in some countries, teachers are still respected as professionals! But allowing a student certain powers of authority results in crossing an invisible line. It is the same line that yells caution to those educators who want to be more of a friend to their students like a company, as opposed to being a disciplinarian. Thinking back, could I have given myself an “A” and would Mr. Limmer have accepted it? Could I have been bragging to my parents about how superior I was in the field of Earth Science by giving myself a perfect 100%? The possibilities seem endless. The grading aspect is a power provided to a professional. Not a 15 year old.

2.) Cause and Effect: Should I Even Bother Trying…or Showing Up?

I noticed a drastic decline in effort in Mr. Limmer’s class the day after. And the week after…heck, he pretty much lost us the rest of the semester. Was this a vain attempt at being hip? Nobody knows, but providing the chance to assign your own grade, while introspective to some, will be a free ticket for other students to slouch for the rest of the school year. And in younger grades, students might be too young to provide an honest response to the question: What grade do you think you deserve. This is especially true if every answer gets a nod of approval. The idea can be likened to a mother telling her son that if he is a good boy, he will get the new Halo game for Playstation. He ends up with 15 referrals and OSS, knowing that Mom will succumb to pressure and get him the game anyway. Should I bother trying if I still get what I want? If I do poorly and still get rewarded, don’t I have free reign to be a jerk since there is no consequence for my actions?

3.) And in the Future…

Time for a game of “what-if’s”. Truth be told, 9th grade Earth Science is not going to make or break a human being if a student passes or fails the class. But what if we assigned the same ideals of letting students pick their own grade to other aspects of life. What if we let them do this in every class in high school? In college? Would we openly invite a college professor to make the same grievous error if their students were studying law? Or taking classes to be a medical surgeon? The world is robust with second chances and opportunities. But t does not always allow for free passes. Few things in life are free. The lesson inscribed upon a young student’s mind can have a negative impact on them in the future. You should pass me for not trying can equate to the future mentality: You should pay me for not working. Students that become future adults will not need a boss as surly as Donald Trump to hear his infamous slogan: “You’re fired.”

I am proud to say that my students work hard. They know I will not cut them breaks such as “Choose your Grade.” This philosophy borders on severe or bizarre. Will I nudge them up a point or two if I see them struggling but making every attempt? You bet. I want the future to succeed and a gentle nudge here and there makes me a benevolent educator. But benevolence has its limits and students need to be held accountable in class. And so do educators.