64°
Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

[OPINION] Maybe we shouldn’t be “preparing kids for the real world”

Schools need to replace outdated letter-grading systems with real constructive feedback.
Maya+Gjelhaugs+essay+on+which+she+received+wonderful+marks.
Sinim Dhuguma
Maya Gjelhaug’s essay on which she received wonderful marks.

Over the past few years at Mounds View, there has been a lot of contention over one major policy area: late work. When Robert Reetz became principal two years ago, I remember one of his major concerns was the late work grading policy, where students would receive grade deductions for work turned in past the due date. I remember teachers’ worries — without incentives, lazy students simply wouldn’t turn in work anymore.

I myself was apprehensive. I wondered how we would be able to meet newspaper print deadlines with writers (Journalism I students) who weren’t necessarily obligated to finish assignments by those deadlines. And I would be lying if I claimed there haven’t been a few cases where a writer simply refused to complete work. But this was also true, if not more so, prior to the “no late work” policy. And I highly doubt a 10% — or even 50% — deduction for late work would have motivated those few students, most of whom hardly cared about achieving a passing grade, to finish assignments on time. 

The research on late work policies mirrors most contemporary research about motivation — incentives, including grades, don’t lead to higher quality, or even punctually completed, work. And this isn’t just seen in schools. The American Library Association now recommends eliminating late fines, as data suggests that fines for late returns, contrary to expectations, actually decrease the speed and quantity of book returns by borrowers. And countless other examples prove that late penalties are counterproductive when it comes to reducing late work.

Now, the way performance is assessed in schools is based on the same assumptions we use in business and parenting. But maybe instead of justifying grading policies based on those assumptions, we should question the entire system that relies on incentive-based motivation.

Grading, late work policies and the like rely on extrinsic motivation — in other words, external incentives rather than a genuine desire to learn. The problem with this is that decades of research have proved that incentives are exceptionally horrible at encouraging certain habits and behaviors. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, smokers who were incentivized to quit using prizes were actually more likely to light up than the control group. As for students, studies have shown that rewards consistently cause children to perform worse on standardized tests and assignments while also getting frustrated more easily and employing less creative problem solving strategies.

The issue with incentivizing learning is that incentivizing something that you want students to inherently love is counterintuitive. Imagine you were told you would receive $10 for eating a slice of pizza; you would automatically assume that something is wrong with the pizza if you had to be coerced through incentives into eating the pizza. The same applies to grading. By incentivizing learning via grades, we lead students to believe that learning is bad or boring simply because we are offering a reward for it.

It’s true that our entire society relies on incentive-based motivation, begging the question of whether maintaining grades is a “necessary evil.” At school, students are incentivized to turn in work on time with grades; in the “real world,” they are incentivized with pay. But I’m just so completely sick of the “we need to prepare kids for the real world.” It takes such a regressive approach to education and inevitably defeats the purpose of education — to raise a better generation of workers, scholars and citizens, not just maintain the status quo. 

And even if the goal is to prepare children for the workforce, this is even more reason to dismantle the grading system. For one, grades act as a barrier to one of the most important aspects of the workplace: collaboration. Grades promote toxic individualism by pitting students against each other — there are only so many As to go around without delegitimizing the grading system. Just imagine how much better and more synergetic group projects would be without the grade incentive that inevitably leads the most “motivated” students to complete 90% of the work alone.

If we want students to be critical thinkers, to take risks and actively engage for the sake of engaging, we need to remove grading policies. We need teachers to voluntarily relinquish some of their control in the classroom to give control back to students. We need to replace arbitrary letters with legitimately constructive feedback. And most importantly, if we really want to create a more equitable education system and society, we need to dismantle the cold, sociopathic system of incentive-driven learning and enable a system of empathy and altruism that reinvigorates students’ desire for knowledge.

Join the conversation
About the Contributors
Maya Gjelhaug
Maya Gjelhaug, Print Editor-in-Chief
My name is Maya, and I'm excited to be one of your print Editors-in-Chief this year. When I'm not editing articles, you can find me mountain biking and watching Band of Brothers with my dad. Awards: Best of SNO - Mounds View Theater casting sparks controversy Best of SNO - The downfall of ELA education Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement Best of SNO - Should legacy admissions still exist? 2nd-Place Gold Medallion Spread - Youth sports culture SNO Site Excellence Design Award SNO Page Excellence Award
Sinim Dhuguma
Sinim Dhuguma, Staff Reporter
Sinim is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement
Donate to The Viewer
$10
$1000
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

Comments are meant to convey student opinion and foster discussion on stories. Therefore, comments are expected to be respectful and constructive. Use of profanity, vulgar language, personal attacks, or false accusations will not be tolerated, and not printed. The Mounds View Viewer reserves the right to moderate comments before they go online. As such, commentators are required to use their real name and supply a email address. Your email address will not printed; it is only needed for verification purposes.
All The Viewer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *