Tyranny of letter hierarchy


Our current scoring system can be a way for children to prove themselves, win college scholarships, or enter highly selective universities. It can also become a game that encourages comparison with fictitious “averages.”

Some people say that the entire scoring system focuses on ranking and categorizing students, rather than really helping them learn. It turns out that this is by design. Todd Ross, a developmental psychologist who studies development, believes that most of the motivation for the standardized scoring system is based on the work of psychologists in the 1800s. They believe that the goal is to find above-average students to focus on teaching instead of seeking to help all students Author of, Intelligence and Learning, and “The End of Average”.

“Humans are more like patterns, and patterns cannot be sorted,” Ross said.

This raises the question: Is there a better way to measure academic performance?

In this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we explored how to use today’s scoring system and imagine a world where letter scoring is not as powerful. I shared my personal obsession with grades as a student — and asked for a copy of my own college admissions documents to try to figure out how important all my grade pursuits are to my own educational path.

This episode is part of our ongoing Bootstraps series, exploring the United States’ long tradition of valuing “merit” when deciding which students get the “best” educational opportunity. We are co-producing the series with Open Campus, a news non-profit organization.

Listen to 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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