In school districts across the country, letter grades – one of the most durable and entrenched traditions of U.S. education – are under scrutiny. The A-F system of assessing student academic performance appears to be pleasing no one. The trouble is, the decision to phase something out, or at least refine it, is the easy part; coming up with a replacement is the challenge. The adage “be careful what you wish for” quickly springs to mind.
Critics believe that letter grades discourage learning and are ineffective at measuring student progress. What exactly does a ‘B,’ after all, really tell you about a student? Other concerns include how grades are used to rank students, creating needless competition and toxic hierarchies within schools. On the other hand, many educators counter that letter grades and grade point average (GPA), while imperfect, still provide generally reliable information to teachers, students, and parents. And they are an invaluable tool for college admissions offices.