Grades - "marks" to our Canadian friends - not only send a signal to third parties that indicate what a person has learned, but also send a signal about the person's willingness and ability to meet deadlines. But some people have a problem with this latter signal:
A letter from former education minister Peter Bjornson sent on June 22, 2009 to Tory MLA Blaine Pedersen says students shouldn't be deducted marks for missing deadlines. The Tories released the letter Thursday.
Bjornson said that if a teacher deducts 10 or 20 per cent because a student turns work in late, then that mark is not "an accurate indicator of what the student has learned or achieved."
He said that while it is important to learn personal responsibility and good work habits, the lateness of assignments should be reported separately.
Bjornson told Pedersen that provincial marking guidelines and a desire for uniform approaches to marking dictate that ". . . marks should reflect the student's achievement and should not be distorted as a result of work habits, attitudes or behaviours.
HT to Mike Moffat. There are lots of reasons why people can't get tasks done on time. A person may be lazy, may make unrealistic goals, lacks an innate ability to learn, lacks the ability to learn quickly, etc. A grade conveniently wraps up all this information in one package.
People use grades to determine, for example, what type of employee a person will make if hired. Consider two people, Andy and Ben. Andy got an A in statistics and Ben got a B. Each of them got all the questions correct, indicating they learned the same amount of information. The only difference between them is that Ben is lazy and didn't feel like doing his stats work in a timely fashion while Andy has a solid work-ethic. Who is likely to make the better employee? If Mr. Bjornson had his way, the decision would come down to a coin flip.
The fact that people are faced with uncertainty in hiring (and other) decisions is unchanged by the belief that a grade should only reflect what someone has learned. It just makes the grade a less-meaningful and less-useful signal and will drive people to find alternative ways to ferret out this information.
Update: John Palmer wonders in the comments how long Mr. Bjornson thinks students should get? Taking Mr. Bjornson's suggestion to a limit, "forever" is the answer. In fact, one could argue based on this that there should be no deadlines of any kind: no homework deadlines, no test dates, no administration deadlines, no semesters, etc.
But one of my colleagues rightly notes that the amount of time a person needs to get homework done is the amount of time they are given.