Grading scale will improve education programs

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    Students are used to being graded on their scholastic performances. Professors use letter grades as a way to measure students’ progress and effort in courses, and you would be hard-pressed to find an instructor who believes grades are unnecessary.

    But that was the reaction of a number of colleges after the U.S. News & World Report announced it would be ranking more than 1,000 universities’ teacher education programs. According to a Feb. 8 article in The New York Times, the publication will be assigning universities an A through F grade. The $3.6 million program will not be completed until next year, but education programs already are protesting the ratings system, claiming it is unfair and superficial.

    Brian Kelly, editor of the Report, said in the article that the ratings system was a useful way to critique schools that operate with little or no outside scrutiny. He also said that schools’ condemnation of the system just proved they were afraid of any outside assessment of their programs.

    The U.S. News & World Report is right to go ahead with its grading system despite the protests. It is important to highlight schools that are producing excellent teachers as well as to expose the flaws of the programs that allow students to graduate unprepared. The letter grading will serve to reward colleges that truly deserve it and may bring positive publicity to smaller programs that may have been overlooked in favor of more traditional schools. An A grade may very well sway a prospective student’s decision to enroll in a particular university, just as a grade of F might cause them to reconsider.

    No college would want to be given a low or failing grade, but the point of this type of grading system is not to benefit the institution. It is designed with the student in mind, either to allow students to make an educated decision about their college or to force the schools to acknowledge techniques that did not work in the past and work to create new policies and teaching methods.

    The detractors of the ranking system are ignoring what most undergraduates already know: namely, that the threat of being graded often provides motivation to improve. For example, knowing that an upcoming test or assignment will comprise a high percent of a student’s overall grade might cause one to hit the books, form study groups and do everything possible to ensure that work will be viewed as satisfactory.

    This is the attitude education schools should be embracing rather than complaining about how being graded on the performance of their programs is unfair.

    Ultimately, this hypocrisy isn’t helping anyone. The mission of these schools is to develop the next generation of teachers. It is time to lead by example by showing their students that pursuit of exemplary education is worth adjusting standards and changing methods to improve.

    Katie Terhune is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Helena, Mont.