The Problems of Grades and Tests

At school, tests and grades are meant to show our progress towards gaining practical skills or understanding complicated ideas. Unfortunately, they often measure the wrong thing or a limited form of progress.

Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand”. And he was right. There is no point in knowing what a solar panel is if we don’t know why it was built or how to install it. Too often, tests focus on the what, rather than the more important questions of how or why.

Multiple Choice is especially tricky. Governments and schools love it because you can compute the results fast and cheap. Unfortunately, Multiple Choice does not measure for creativity or original thoughts.

As long as test scores assess only one very limited form of understanding, there will be parents and teachers that push children to focus on the wrong things: facts for example. As long as kids have to study subjects not aligned with their personal interest - boredom, confusion or low self-confidence will prevail.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth says character, perseverance and mindset make all the difference in school, work and life; she calls it ‘grit’.

Famous neuroscientists Manfred Spitzer argues the most important subjects to become good at anything include music, handcrafting, and drama, which are difficult to measure with tests.

Some top schools already focus on mindset or teach theatre. In the west, Montessori and Waldorf schools help children to develop practical, creative and social skills whilst grades matter little. In East Asia, there’s a new breed of Buddhists schools that focus on character, empathy, awareness and mindset.

What do you think? Is it an accident that the visionary founders of Google, Wikipedia and Amazon all went to Montessori, a school that doesn't use grades?