This following letter was written for the TAS Mock Election, a project for the AP U.S. Government and Politics course. This year’s election is on the issue of the abolition of the use of grades at TAS; the following letter was written by Team Abolish Grades.
By Eming S. (’21)
When mass education was first introduced, the public’s average level of education was fairly low. Under such circumstances, a streamlined educational process centered around one single benchmark – grades – was necessary to institute education into everyone’s lives and to simply put the exact same content knowledge into everyone. However, in the 21st century, the world no longer needs everyone to think the same. Instead it is in dire need of people with skills and with new ideas, stemming from genuine learning and passion. Therefore, we stand firmly to abolish grades.
Three unique drawbacks of having a single grading system in our school specifically confirm the necessity of abolishing grades: the distortion and destruction of the incentives, the process, and the results of learning.
First, students are incentivized not by our desire for learning, not by the yearning of new knowledge, nor the genuine quest to know the unknown, but instead by the want of higher grades. Grades have become the sole incentive for students to go to school; “learning” has become “schooling”. Second, we experience studying for the test, not learning for the class. A common question in many classes by students is: “Will this be on the test?” Why should that matter, if at all, to learning in general? Why should one care about whether a piece of information is on the test when one can appreciate that piece of information in and of itself? Third, the end result of such distorted incentives and experiences is not rewarding. Students soon forget the materials from the last unit in their attempt to memorize and learn for the upcoming unit test. Under such circumstances, learning is a short-term memory competition; the A’s and A+’s mean nothing more than mere letters after a month or two.
Ultimately, the rigid grade system damages and distorts the beginning, process, and ends of learning, expecting uniform outcomes from a uniform system only to obtain empty short-term recitation for the meaningless letter grades.
Recognizing the drawbacks of this system, we, team Abolish Grades, propose to all students and teachers of Taipei American School Upper School community to abolish grades. Let’s first break the rigid wheel of grades, and then we will have a discussion of what comes next. We would encourage a system of choice: students can choose the form to which they demonstrate their understanding of the materials they learned. Whether it be the mastery system, a pass/fail system, a portfolio-based courses, Montessori Schooling, individualized projects and research, or field studies – we propose to abolish the idea of ONLY having grades as the demonstration of one’s understanding of course materials. There will be lots of options for the alternate system we choose – indeed the most popular right now is the mastery system – however simply having teachers provide more feedback along the way could be the alternative.
We are not alone. Type in mastery.org, there are thousands of schools in and out of the U.S. moving towards abolishing grades. In addition to prestigious schools as far away as Exeter, Singapore American School and Hong Kong International School are also members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, whose mission is to move towards creating a high school transcript that “reflects the unique skills, strengths, and interests of each learner.” Abolishing grades is not a new idea; we are just behind. It’s time for TAS to step up its game.
Do not worry about whether colleges would accept your transcripts without letter grades. Again, there are numerous sample mastery transcripts online on mastery.org for reference – thousands of colleges in the U.S. and beyond are moving to accept a non-grade-based transcript from high school graduates. In fact, moving towards a non-grade-based transcript for TAS, an international school, will actually be a fantastic idea for our college admission process: we, as international students, often have much more unique stories and experiences than American students to share with our ideal colleges that could never be conveyed through ice-cold grades.
In this 21st century that no longer needs people with mere content knowledge, we, team Abolish Grades sincerely urge all members of TAS Upper School to cast a vote for us in the mock election on December 5th, 2019.