Grades are the currency of the academic world. Like money, they can be useful. Like money, they can help us become evil if we love them. The scriptures remind us that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Like money, grades should not become an end in themselves, nor should they be seen as the key resource needed for progress. A student who piles up good grades in her transcript without seeking knowledge is like a miser who collects and adds up his gold coins in order to admire them. She is likely to become yet another boring and aimless adult who is the proud owner of a great G.P.A.
A beautiful transcript filled with A’s is no guarantee of future success in academics or in life. On the other hand, a beautiful transcript filled with A’s can be one great indicator that a student has learned well, has been growing in diligence, and has learned to understand how to work well with other people.
Learning is the end of education, and so grades are used in most schools to support learning. To the extent that they support learning, they are useful. They become a problem to the extent that they undermine learning. Grades potentially motivate students to just cram for tests, to cheat, to take shortcuts, to satisfy others’ expectations, and to beat the system. They also can also be a tool that a wise teacher uses to track student learning, that a student uses to help evaluate her own progress, and that helps both teachers and students identify the next priorities for learning.
I believe that it harms students to get a good grade in a course without learning the skills and knowledge that are the purpose for the course. A teacher is responsible to assess students on actual learning, not just on completion of assignments, test taking skills, and short-term memory of facts. A student is responsible to become a learner and needs curiousity, determination, gratitude and a growing joy in gaining skills and knowledge. This is the path of learning, and it leads a student toward success in college, a flourishing life, and toward the God, the Source of life, truth, and every good thing.