Why is this still a thing? Grading on a bell curve

Illustration by Cristina Spano via 'The New York Times'

Illustration by Cristina Spano via ‘The New York Times’

Education is not a competition

By Jessica Berget, Opinions Editor


Our education system has a lot of flaws, but none as nonsensical as the bell curve grading system. Not only does this method of distributing grades fail to accurately evaluate students’ learning processes, it turns education and learning into a contest, a “battle royale” for the top grades. Grading someone on how they learn by giving them a letter is already a ridiculous concept, but distributing the letter grades on a bell curve makes zero sense. I believe this goes against everything learning is about and all that education holds sacred, and any professors who still believe this method of grading legitimately helps students learn should have their teaching license revoked.

In case the name doesn’t give it away, grading on a bell curve is a method of evaluation based on the belief that letter grades in a class ought to be distributed on a bell curve—meaning that no matter how well you do on an assignment or a test, only a certain number of students will get A’s and B’s and the rest of the students are stuck with C’s, which is not always an accurate representation of a students work and progress.

There are many professors who foster this grading system because they believe that if you want to get a good grade in their class, you have to work extra hard for it, but isn’t that what getting a good grade entails anyway? Answer: Yes, it is, and every student already knows and struggles with this, so why make it even more difficult?

By turning good grades into a competition, the professors who use this system are only making it harder for students who have trouble with school to get better grades, because they will be perpetually stuck in the C grade category with no room for them to learn from their mistakes and grow. Even if these students improve significantly by their own standards, if they don’t do exceptionally well compared to the other students, they will only ever get C’s.

Most of these professors also use this bell curve to create extra pressure and competition between their students to be one of the top students in the class. It also gives a sense of elitism because getting an A in a class that has this grading system is practically impossible unless you already get straight A’s.

Generally, in this system of evaluation, it is the same people who are at the top, the middle, and the bottom of the class for the entire semester. And, if you happen to do poorly on an assignment, your grade will fall hard. This is not because the system works, but because the system makes it hard for them to work their way up and improve. Even if every student does a grade A job on an assignment, only a select few will be deemed worthy of the grade. This is not at all an accurate representation of students’ work.

I believe learning and education is about how much you can improve yourself and your grades based on your own standards and level. There is also room to grow and learn from your mistakes because you never stop learning, and this system of grading does not represent that, nor does it celebrate student’s educational achievements by any means. It could even deter some students from trying their best in school because the competitiveness of getting a decent grade is too great. The bell curve is not an accurate evaluation of learning, so stop pretending that it is.


The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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