In educational institutions, success is measured by academic performance, or how well a student meets standards set out by local government and the institution itself. As career competition grows ever more fierce in the working world, the importance of students doing well in school has caught the attention of parents, legislators and government education departments alike.
Although education is not the only road to success in the working world, much effort is made to identify, evaluate, track and encourage the progress of students in schools. Parents care about their child's academic performance because they believe good academic results will provide more career choices and job security. Schools, though invested in fostering good academic habits for the same reason, are also often influenced by concerns about the school's reputation and the possibility of monetary aid from government institutions, which can hinge on the overall academic performance of the school. State and federal departments of education are charged with improving schools, and so devise methods of measuring success in order to create plans for improvement.
In the past, academic performance was often measured more by ear than today. Teachers' observations made up the bulk of the assessment, and today's summation, or numerical, method of determining how well a student is performing is a fairly recent invention. Grading systems came into existence in the United States in the late Victorian period and were initially criticized due to high subjectivity. Different teachers valued different aspects of learning more highly than others, and although some standardization was attempted in order to make the system more fair, the problem continued. Today, changes have been made to incorporate differentiation for individual students' abilities, and exploration of alternate methods of measuring performance is ongoing.
The tracking of academic performance fulfills a number of purposes. Areas of achievement and failure in a student's academic career need to be evaluated in order to foster improvement and make full use of the learning process. Results provide a framework for talking about how students fare in school and a constant standard to which all students are held. Performance results also allow students to be ranked and sorted on a scale that is numerically obvious, minimizing complaints by holding teachers and schools accountable for the components of every grade.
Performance in school is evaluated in a number of ways. For regular grading, students demonstrate their knowledge by taking written and oral tests, performing presentations, turning in homework and participating in class activities and discussions. Teachers evaluate in the form of letter or number grades and side notes, to describe how well a student has done. At the state level, students are evaluated by their performance on standardized tests geared toward specific ages and based on a set of achievements students in each age group are expected to meet.
The subjectivity of academic performance evaluation has lessened in recent years, but it has not been totally eliminated. It may not be possible to fully remove subjectivity from the current evaluation methods, since most are biased toward students that respond best to traditional teaching methods. The students that do best on standardized tests are those that excel in reading, mathematics and test-taking, a skill that is not in itself indicative of academic worth. The tests reward visual learners and give no chance for kinesthetic or auditory learners to show their abilities. The standardized test fails to recognize students with learning and physical disabilities that do not allow them to complete the test in the same manner or amount of time as other students. Evaluations from classroom teachers, though they give the most detailed information, may still retain bias if individual differentiation and learning styles have not been taken into account.
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