I’m not really worried about my students’ grades. I might only be concerned if I could establish a clear connection between the grades I assign my students, and their success later in life. I’m much more concerned that my students are successful, so this might the only reason I would change my grading practices.
It’s important here that by successful that I don’t really mean by my standards. I want them to be successful by their standards and to be able to look back on their lives and say, "I lived a good life", whatever that means to them.
I don’t see how what grade I gives them will reflect in their future success. It’s possible that I may close some doors if I give a grade which is too low, or that I may open up unlikely futures if I give a grade which is too high, but at the end of the day it’s not a grade I want to give, it’s the ability to learn.
There are studies which attempt to show a relationship between a student’s grades and their future success in life, as defined by society. It’s my opinion that at best these studies can show that students who receive higher grades achieve a higher level of success as defined by a capitalist system AND even that isn’t a causal relationship, it’s almost certainly just two variables which are both in a causal relationship with a whole another set of variables.
Students who get high grades are probably good at studying, maybe because they get good family support. They may be good at memorizing information, or very carefully following instructions of teachers. There are a lots of other reasons why they get good grades. Many of these reasons are also things which lead to future success which can be measured.
There are lots of types of success which cannot be easily measured. For example, if someone becomes a fire fighter and is responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of people, I think that person is successful in life. Someone who volunteers their time and helps people find places to sleep and food to eat; they are successful in what they do. A mother or father who knows how to speak kindly to their children and involve them in decisions or a baker who makes the best cupcakes around; these people are successful, but you can’t measure their success with any standardized metric.
It is arrogant of us to assume that we as teachers have that much influence over our student’s lives. While I’ll agree that the influence of a good teacher is significant, there are so many other factors at play as well; we are just one factor among many. We should continue to push our students, and to help them learn and become good people; all of these are still important, but I think we should relax about their grades. They really don’t make that big a difference.