05/13/2011 06:57 pm ET | Updated Jul 13, 2011

Classroom Grading is an Attack on Students

It can hardly be denied that there are factors outside a student's control that might affect his grades: How smart he is, how much his parents support education, how nutritious the food in his home is, how much his older brother distracts him with PlayStation 3.

Some parents might put on SportsCenter at 11 p.m. Eastern time. Others don't. It's hardly a level playing field.

Since a student has no control over these kinds of things, and since some students face a lot more of these obstacles than others, grading simply isn't fair. Why should I get a better grade than you just because my home life makes it easier for me to perform? And as we've learned from teachers' unions, it's better to have no evaluation system than one that could be unfair.

There's another reason, too. It's an ugly one: favoritism. We all know the teacher's pet is likely to get a good grade, while the charmless face has a much tougher slog. That's not fair either.

It brings the inevitable conclusion: Until someone devises a grading system that can equalize all of these disparate factors, and compensate for which students have advantages and which don't, the only fair course is to avoid grading completely.

This is not without precedent. After years of study, school groups have discovered that fairness is more important than accountability in other aspects of education, too.

Moreover, there's no real need for grades anyway. That seventh-grade student didn't just walk into class from out of nowhere. He's been certified with six consecutive years of training before he ever sets foot in that seventh-grade class. His certifications prove he's qualified to be a seventh-grader, which make the act of grading him superfluous. Grading schemes would be an insult to this seventh-grader's extensive, multi-year qualification process.

2011-03-31-judge-judge.gifGrading, at least with respect to grades less than an "A," is also punitive. Struggling students, and those who don't want to complete assignments, need help and guidance, consultation and mentoring. How does punishing them with a grade lower than an "A" give them a hand up? What does a bad grade teach a kid about algebra, biology or history? Nothing. Indeed, it punishes the very students that need the most help.

This is why grading without adequate fairness safeguards is, quite simply, an attack on students. A fair system (we might call it "tenure") would, by contrast, prevent unfair grading schemes from affecting children by granting them due process should some particular teacher seek to give them something less than "A."

With all that said, should there be consequences for poor performance? Of course. Everyone understands and supports that. If a teacher can show, by presenting months of collected evidence, that a student has earned less than an "A," then a non-"A" grade should certainly happen. Like a "B-plus." Or in some cases, a "B." A student tenure hearing would at least provide due process, where students would be presented exhaustive cases against say, their book report, and they'd be given a chance to respond with adequate representation to argue their cases. Anything else would be unfair.

(It would also be only fair for students to be able to file grievances against teachers for giving them less than an "A." Might some students gang up to file multiple, petty grievances against a teacher they don't like, as retribution? Perhaps. That's simply the price of due process.)

All this notwithstanding, the big picture is that the issue of student grading schemes and student tenure really shouldn't be up to us -- it should be up to them. Who knows more about student education than students (as represented by their elected leaders)? After all, it's their learning we're talking about. And in surveys, student union leaders show strong support for student tenure. When outsiders try to impose unfair, nepotistic student grading schemes, without accommodating for complaints and accounting for unfairness, it's coercive and arrogant. It's student bashing. These people should be ashamed of themselves, and it should trigger outrage from the rest of us.

In short, students themselves, not their superiors, should decide whether they would like to be given grades. And evaluating people who don't want to be evaluated can only be called one thing: an attack.

(Thanks to America's teachers' unions for their assistance in the development of this piece.)