Opinion | Should Schools Curb Grade Inflation?

To the Editor:

Re “If Everyone Gets an A, No One Gets an A,” by Tim Donahue (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, Oct. 23):

Mr. Donahue illuminates the problem of grade inflation in contemporary education. Yet the essay seems hung up on an outdated system of ranking student performance and an outdated solution: modestly tougher grades.

Doubling down on this grading system misses the opportunity to reiterate the real goal of a quality education: learning, which letter grades, as he points out, do not measure in a meaningful way.

We know that the richness of learning cannot be reduced to singular data points. Several alternatives to traditional grading already exist to facilitate student growth and learning: narrative evaluations, labor-based grading and self-assessments, to name a few.

When Mr. Donahue claims that “grading offers a singular place to teach such lessons of resilience,” he could have emphasized his own discipline of English, and the writing process itself with its complex cycle of drafting, incorporating feedback and revising.

Real writing, as any teacher of English knows, takes time, reflection, patience and resilience. There is a lifetime’s worth of lessons in that process that mere letters just can’t measure.

Jeffrey C. Kessler
The writer is a senior lecturer in the English department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

To the Editor:

I strongly disagree with Tim Donahue’s idea that if everyone gets an A, then it loses its value. Grades are not a limited resource, and they should not be used as a measure against your fellow students. This just creates artificial competition and conflict.

Grades should be a measure of how well you were able to understand the concepts that were taught. If a class is designed for a population, then its mastery should be achievable by that population. If a student can’t do well, then the teacher has not written the course well for that student.

The goal of education should never be trying to make some people feel superior. It should be to make everyone smarter, to get them to push their minds further and to help them gain the knowledge and skills to live up to their potential.

Jonathan Loving
Long Beach, Calif.

To the Editor:

As a senior at the University of Michigan studying a pre-med curriculum, I’m reminded of “weed out” culture, which is especially common among pre-med courses like organic chemistry. This approach, designed to filter out lower performers, can foster an extreme fear of failure and breed an unhealthy environment.

Before transferring to the University of Michigan, I was a student at Middlebury College and, before that, at a community college. I’m someone who wasn’t a very confident student in high school, and these schools really helped me grow.

Did they inflate grades? Yes. In my general chemistry course at Middlebury, we even got to submit test corrections on an exam — unheard-of for a pre-med course at the University of Michigan. However, I was able to enjoy the material more in these environments, which gave me an advantage once I transferred.

Middlebury and community college taught me not to be afraid of difficult subjects such as linear algebra and organic chemistry. If I had begun college at the University of Michigan, I would have never had the confidence to major in an engineering discipline and probably wouldn’t have been able to complete the pre-med curriculum.

Loving to learn and building confidence are unbelievably important, and if grades are a bit inflated, I am OK with that.

Ethan Kahana
Ann Arbor, Mich.

To the Editor:

I commend Tim Donahue for acknowledging the elephant in the classroom: Grades, at least how they’re implemented currently, do not mean anything in particular. In fact, more often than not, they are primarily used as indicators of compliance, not competency, growth or creativity.

There is also, as he writes, a G.P.A. arms race being waged from high school to high school across the country, with the abandonment of standardized testing requirements only fueling the fire.

I disagree, however, with Mr. Donahue’s proposed remedy. Simply grading harder does not address nor repair the fundamental brokenness of contemporary grading; it would only put one’s own students at a disadvantage to those enrolled in more generously graded classes.

Yes, grading is a hollow and arguably useless metric at present. Let’s acknowledge this reality and move to institute more comprehensive, transparent metrics for our students, if not instead of grades, then in spite of them.

Matt Morone
Hillsdale, N.J.
The writer is a high school English teacher.

To the Editor:

Re “Lucrative Hernia Surgery Injures Many Patients” (“Operating Profits” series, front page, Oct. 30):

As leaders of the American Hernia Society, we are disturbed by the imbalanced portrayal in your article of hernia surgeons performing advanced techniques.

Component separation has increased in use over many years with improved outcomes in patients with complex ventral hernias. Peer-reviewed publications continue to demonstrate that robotics results in lower rates of complications, shorter recovery time and lower cost of care.

Robotics has allowed all surgical areas to increase use of minimally invasive techniques. We continuously study surgical outcomes and complications to identify strategies to decrease complications.

In addition to years of medical school and residency training, the American Hernia Society offers various resources to safely learn new procedures, including hands-on training and ongoing mentorship by experts.

We continue to adhere to our drive for quality patient care, advancing the science and treatment of hernia and promoting the highest standards of professional skill and competence among abdominal wall surgeons.

Archana Ramaswamy
Loma Linda, Calif.
The writer is the president of the American Hernia Society. The letter was also signed by 14 other board members of the society.

To the Editor:

Re “The Path to Reducing Pedestrian Deaths Is Steep but Straight,” by Jamelle Bouie (Opinion newsletter, Oct. 21):

Regarding pedestrian accidents, I feel there are more factors from the driver’s viewpoint that need to be taken into account.

Among these are pedestrians: who wear dark clothing without any reflective material at night; who assume they are always clearly visible to drivers; who appear suddenly from behind trucks or S.U.V.s on busy two-way streets; who stand on corners (looking at their phones), not making clear their intention to cross.

In short, pedestrians must adopt a heightened situational awareness and an appreciation for the driver’s circumstances and limitations when crossing, just as drivers must do at all times for traffic and pedestrians.

Bill Kessler
Westfield, N.J.

To the Editor:

While I agree that most pedestrian deaths are a result of carelessly operated motor vehicles, Jamelle Bouie did not address the injuries and fears caused by irresponsible cyclists and operators of mopeds.

There seems to be a laissez-faire attitude in New York City regarding the illegal operation of two-wheeled vehicles on sidewalks and against the stream of traffic. When will the safety of elderly New Yorkers be considered as much as the convenience of bicyclists?

Edward Temple