635: Grades

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
635: Grades

What do you think grades in school are a good indicator of?

Full episode script

The whole idea of providing standardized letter grades for academic performance is, globally speaking, a pretty new one. According to the National Education Association in the 1970s, still only about two-thirds of schools used a letter grading system. It took about 200 years for grades to get to even that point, with most sources agreeing that it was in the 1700s sometime that Yale started ranking students on the basis of their academic performance.

There’s plenty of debate over what grades actually mean, or how grades correlate (or not) to future successes.


One 2016 article in Quartz reported, quote:

The researchers, from Chicago and Maastricht University in the Netherlands, used data from four studies that tested students and young adults in Europe and the US on grades, IQ, personality, and achievement. Three of the four studies followed the students over a decade or more, and examined how they did on a variety measures of life outcomes, like wages, arrest rates, body mass index, and whether or not they voted. Together, the studies show personality and grades correlate more strongly with later measures of success and happiness than IQ.


A researcher from the University of Miami also took a look at correlational data about grades and economics, finding, quote:

For a one-point increase in a person’s high school GPA, average annual earnings in adulthood increased by about 12 percent for men and about 14 percent for women.


But… for these correlations and more, there’s plenty of worry that grading systems are far from fair or equal enough to be used to make great decisions. Quoting from an article review in the Atlantic, quote:

However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity, rewards cheating, damages students’ peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge.


So how do you view academic grades or grading systems?

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.