Our grading system is obsolete. Actually, obsolete may be the wrong word since it implies that letter grades ever served a meaningful purpose.

Sure, grades help to expedite the work of administrators and employers by providing a quick way of judging performance and skill level. But for both students and colleges, the grading system has become a shady game of who can look the best on paper. Currently, most students are concerned more with earning the highest possible grade point average than with learning. And some institutions of higher education have played right along with this system. We need a process that operates with more integrity.

As Daily columnist Will Grundler stated in one of his recent columns, “letters don’t count for knowledge” (Examine THIS, 10/07/2010). And even if grades were a true indicator of knowledge, outside of courses like math and science, grades are essentially subjective. For example, it may be impossible to accurately explain why a student deserves a high B for an essay rather than a low A — especially if the A- was withheld due to a grudge that the teacher held. Not that I’m speaking from past experience or anything.

Too frequently, schools perpetuate and even promote the arbitrary nature of grades by inflating scales to make certain graduates appear to be more qualified candidates to potential employers.

This summer, The New York Times reported that law schools around the country are inflating grades for the same reason, which is an unfortunate trend. Some universities, like Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, aren’t only openly bumping up students’ grades but also doing so retroactively. Due to an oversaturated legal market, the article reports that the university was “tacking on .333 to every grade recorded in the last few years.” This tactic is dishonest and inequitable. Unearned advantages, which are given to lucky recipients such as those at Loyola, challenge the credibility of both the institutions and the grades themselves.

Students who enroll in an institution that openly engages in inflation also lose out. Assuming that the true purpose of education is learning, these fraudulently high marks decrease the incentive to improve. For example, if students receive inflated A’s on their exams, there’s no motivation and no room for them to do better. From the student’s point of view, inflated grades encourage complacency at best. At worst, they encourage minimal effort.

To help solve this problem, we need to implement nonspecific classification. This would automatically alleviate the subjective nature inherent in our current system. This may make it harder for employers to distinguish between candidates, but students would be more focused on learning as opposed to earning the highest letter grades possible.

The British undergraduate degree classification system offers a fine alternative to our current system. The grading system ranks students from first to third class and “ordinary.” Studies have shown that abolishing grades encourages more learning. Students become motivated to explore their own paths toward understanding.

A transition from the current system is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Traditional grading has already been abolished at some of the nation’s top law schools, including Yale, Stanford, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. According to the same article from The New York Times, some of these schools have implemented a pass/fail system in the classroom.

Some school administrators may have no interest in overhauling the grading system for the entire university, since there’s no widespread demand and it’d be a daunting task. But this isn’t to say that the grading system couldn’t change if students actively explored alternatives. In my opinion, most students would be in favor of abolishing our current system.

It’s up to the students to demand this change. As entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau suggests in his book “The Art of Nonconformity,” “students could revolt and change universities, shifting the balance of power toward the group that enables the institution to exist in the first place…grading could be abolished or modified, and curriculums rewritten to reward trial and error more than rote memorization.” That’s a plan I would give a passing grade to on any scale.

Julian Toles is an LSA senior.

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