The Tyranny of Letter Grades

EdSurge Podcast

The Tyranny of Letter Grades

By Jeffrey R. Young     Oct 12, 2021

The Tyranny of Letter Grades

This article is part of the guide: Bootstraps: A Podcast Series .

Our current grading system can be a way for kids to prove themselves, win college scholarships, or gain admission to highly selective colleges. It also can turn into a game that encourages comparison to fictional “averages.”

Some say the whole system of grading focuses on ranking and sorting students rather than actually helping them learn. And it turns out, that’s by design. Much of the drive to standardize grading systems was based on the work of psychologists from the 1800s who saw the goal as finding above-average students to focus teaching on rather than looking to help all students, argues Todd Rose, a developmental psychologist who studies development, intelligence and learning and author of “The End of Average.”

“Human beings are more like patterns, and patterns can’t be ranked,” says Rose.

Which raises the question: Is there a better way to measure academic achievement?

On this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we explore how we got to today’s grading systems and we imagine a world where letter grades don’t have so much power. And I share my personal obsession with grades as a student—and request a copy of my own college admissions file to try to figure out just how important all my grade-chasing was to my own educational path.

The episode is part of our ongoing Bootstraps series, exploring America’s longstanding tradition of prizing “merit” in deciding which students get access to the “best” educational opportunities. We’re co-producing the series with the journalism nonprofit Open Campus.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.

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