Service of Grades

August 16th, 2010

Categories: Grades, Manipulation, Recommendation


Grades will always touch a nerve which is why I was fascinated with a story, “Little as They Try, Students Can’t Get a D Here,” in The New York Times earlier this month.

dgrade2Winnie Hu wrote in her second paragraph: “The way the Mount Olive school district sees it, its students should not be getting by with D’s on their report cards, either. This fall, there will no longer be any D’s, only A’s, B’s, C’s and F’s.”

The “either” referred to Hu’s lead: “Who wants to pay for ‘D’-quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a ‘D’-rated pilot? Settle for a ‘D’ restaurant?

We need a way to distinguish and reward work. But so much about grades in certain subjects is subjective. Are grades on an English essay or history thesis much different than book or movie reviews by credentialed reviewers or your friends? How many books or movies have you adored that respected pals and reviewers have felt lukewarm about or vice versa?

scholarship1I’m on a committee that gives $100,000+ in student scholarships. Two members grade each entry, which consists of an essay, resume, grade transcript and recommendations. You’d be amazed how far apart we come in on some even though we all work in different parts of the same industry.

Should high schools follow the pass/fail model that some colleges use?

Or instead of spending time worrying about the letter D, how about instituting a tutoring program to help move the Ds to Cs and Bs?

As for Hu’s reference to a D restaurant, we enjoyed the best service ever in an always-jammed restaurant with the most horrific food and the converse happened a month later-deliciously prepared food served with lackadaisical aplomb described as “family style.” What grades would you give each?  

I wouldn’t go near an airline with D-rated pilots-I’m a chicken-but we don’t grade pilots, I don’t think. There are on-line businesses that rate services like plumbers but how do you know that cousins, uncles and aunts haven’t sent in the reviews leading to top ratings?

What do you think about the elimination of the D grade? In the spirit of “every child wins a trophy just by breathing and showing up to a sports event,” why not add a grade-M–and give M a new, positive persona? Maybe the letter M could be a new client–think of the social media opportunities and the marketing/PR campaign!


5 Responses to “Service of Grades”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Eliminate the D grade, and C moves down a notch, so what is accomplished?

    Institute the pass/fail system, and remove the student incentive to excel.

    If that’s what society wants, it will also reap the consequences of shoddy performance in every sector. Sure, it makes life easy for the student, but once the real world kicks in, the results may well be tragic. Too many other countries encourage students to work and to learn. Enough said. I think you get the picture.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I do get the picture, Lucrezia, and I agree with what you see.

    Who does the Mt. Olive school system think is fooled? Their line of thinking is in line with those who believe by taking a pill advertised to guarantee that they will lose a ton of weight without changing eating habits an iota that they will.

    Similary fiddle with grades and the school system has solved its teaching and learning problems? Pass me one of those pills and a hot fudge sundae with coffee ice cream!

  3. Martin St John Said:

    For reasons not germane to the subject of your post, between the ages of 6 and 19, when I went to school, and I didn’t for three years, I received no grade higher than “D” and a good many “F”s. (I was saved by my uncanny ability to “con” multiple choice questions, which were then, and still are, the darlings of “forward looking” educators, but which are, in my opinion, a good-for-nothing idiocy that educates nobody for nothing in life except in how to “con.”) I survived the better for it.

    I feel most strongly that if you want a country populated by strong, hard working people, then you had better tell them when they are young and in school, if their work stinks, that it stinks. If they bruise easily and are too fragile to face failure, or even worse, being mediocre, then, “TOO BAD!”

    As to the “gobbledygook” about competition and scholarships, I say nonsense. I attended one of the top three universities in the country, and spent 20 years as a trustee and board officer of a leading secondary school, all of which has convinced me that what counts is not where you go to college, but what you do with the opportunity when you get there. One of the finest historians I know obtained his BA while serving as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army in Korea. (He simultaneously learned to read, write and speak fluent Korean.) Admittedly, after getting his MA at night school in central Florida, he did get his PhD from Harvard.

  4. Thomas Yip Said:

    I think the most important thing to consider is who primarily uses these “grades”?

    In the various examples mentioned, grades are assigned to products and services, and consumers are free to choose whichever they prefer. Jeanne mentioned the restaurant with excellent services but terrible food, and vice versa. I personally would withstand terrible service for excellent food, while some others may not. 80/20 ground beef can make excellent hamburgers for some as well, while others may find it revolting.

    As for grades, who are they for? Students, parents, admission offices, or any other parties of concern? Pass/fail may be fine for one party but not for another. Same for the A/B/C or GPA system. Eliminating “D” does not serve any purpose in my opinion.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You may have been a D and F student, but something stuck along with your ability to take multiple choice tests which was important to the top college you attended. What a fascinating child you must have been to excel in tests but not in school.

    Thomas, I would assume that the school grades are for those who determine whether or not to accept a student to the next level. I did not attend the NYC public school system but my friend’s children must apply to attend middle and high schools within the system so that grades would be used to get a spot in a great middle or high school–as well as college. But I doubt that a C student would get into the top schools–unless they are like Martin–and an F student wouldn’t either, so the cutting of the D would be immaterial.

    I am spoiled, Thomas, and if restaurant service is terrible, it spoils a meal for me, even if I am in a sandwich shop. If the sandwich is super fabulous, I might order takeout but wouldn’t subject myself to abuse by sitting at a table!

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