The Real Value of an A

Over the years, people have spent considerable time discussing the merit of grades. Teachers think students should earn their grade, students think they are given a grade, and many parents push their children to achieve a certain grade or face consequences. I would like to just say to parents who demand an A that it adds a layer of stress for the students. If students can enter a classroom and earn an A all the time, the class may not be challenging enough. It isn’t always a reasonable demand to place on students. I tell my own child to do her best. That will have to be sufficient. I’d rather have her earn a C than be gifted an A with no skills. (Excuse me while I replace my parent hat with my teacher hat.)

As a teacher, I can honestly say I don’t “give” grades; students earn them. Liking a student doesn’t equal a good grade “just because.” That is why a rubric is necessary! Sometimes extra credit can help a struggling student pass a class, but for a class in a series, a student must have a certain base of knowledge to continue and be successful. I think it can be agreed that grades should reflect competency in the subject matter.

Many teachers agree that participation points can help students achieve a higher grade. If students attempt a challenging homework assignment, credit should be given as errors are corrected. Effort should be rewarded. That should be balanced, however, by performance assignments. I teach Spanish, so my examples will focus on that subject, of course. Some will say that participation points “pad” the grades. I would argue that they can make the difference for students who try their hardest, but still have trouble “getting” it. I also realize that not all students find foreign languages easy to learn. In my current school, one year of Spanish is needed to graduate. Most kids that think it’s too hard will not sign up for Spanish 2. Other schools require two years; college-bound students will sometimes take a third year of Spanish, depending on which college is the goal.

I have taught in several schools in the U. S. (and Mexico), and I have seen students in Spanish 2 who lack the basic skills to continue language learning. Keep in mind that I am not speaking specifically about my current school—I am discussing this in general. The sad thing is that some of these passed Spanish 1 with an acceptable grade, but a few cheated to get the grade. (Teachers can’t see everything even though we try!) Cheating can be defined as using online translation for writing assignments, group homework sessions and/or crib sheets during testing. When referring to group homework, I mean a session in which students copy answers rather than have a topic explained by a classmate.

One of my college professors told me that she required students to complete writing assignments in class to keep them from getting too much help outside the classroom. She shared that in a couple of cases, students have had high-level “skills” for homework, but no skills in class. I took this to heart, so my students complete many things in class.

At any rate, it’s obvious that cheating didn’t profit anyone. In Spanish 2, kids are held accountable for assignments based on skills. This means I ask them to speak, write and read in Spanish in addition to answering questions based on listening exercises. Whether students cheat to pass or really learn, the question remains the same: what is the true value of your A? Did you earn and learn, or did you cheat to beat the system? What did it cost you?

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