Are Grades True Indicator of Students’ Ability?
A question like this doesn’t beg a yes or no answer. If the ability to retain information and retrieve it when needed is indicative of intelligence, then yes. But ability is way more complex than just being able to learn given information and reproduce it in the required manner. So, while grades are a good way of understanding how much a student has memorized, it doesn’t necessarily translate to understanding. While someone with excellent grades has managed to put the learnt matter on paper during an exam, it doesn’t imply they will be able to put it to use in life in practical situations. On the other hand, a student who has not been a ‘great-grade-getter’, may be successful in real life owing to much better understanding of the same subject which he could not elucidate during exams due to any number of reasons.
Variables Affecting Grades
Grades are likely to be affected by a lot of factors that have nothing to do with ability. A student who is bright and has consistently performed well may not get a grade as good as he usually does if he is unwell around the time of the exam. A student could ace a multiple choice test simply because he ticked the right answers by chance. A very capable student who leads a students’ group, volunteers at children’s hospitals, old age homes or maintains a job to fund his education may be far more capable than his grades indicate. With so many variables, grades are a vague indicator at best.
Drawbacks of Grades
In fact, competitiveness arising due to grades is one of the main reasons students focus not on the actual understanding of concepts, on asking questions, being curious or learning concepts that will take them further in life, but solely on upping their grade game. This could lead to some students, who are otherwise smart, becoming demotivated by lower than expected grades. Students with genuine interest in a particular subject may not be able to get into particular institutions, unless those institutions offer tests aimed at testing particular ability. Creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, along with different kinds of social, emotional and political intelligence are rarely measured by tests and they are more important when it comes to determining career success and ability.
Backed by Research
A team of American psychologists studied a selection of most successful & creative architects in 1962. Apart from other things that the study uncovered, it was found that these architects got overall average grades with exceptional performance in subjects that intrigued them or interested them. It was this readiness to go an extra mile for subjects that stimulated their curiosity that served them well in their careers.
Importance of Grades
Despite being much maligned for a host of reasons, grades are still indispensable. Education is for everyone and that means there are more students in classrooms than can be effectively taught and measured for understanding subjectively. With limited teaching and testing resources, and due to the need for tests to be standardized, they can only be tweaked to make them inclusive for all kinds of abilities but cannot, in present circumstances, be designed for individual students. If all students were tested for their particular interests and style of understanding, there would be no parameters for institutions to compare their ability. Student loans for education are adversely affected by not-so-great-grades. And finally, let’s face it. Good grade getters walk away with cushy jobs and fat packages.
So, the best approach for any student is to maintain grades that are fairly good while keeping their curiosity and interests alive to maximize their ability.