The End of Grades

“The research quite clearly shows that kids who are graded – and have been encouraged to try to improve their grades – tend to lose interest in the learning itself, avoid challenging tasks whenever possible (in order to maximize the chance of getting an A), and think less deeply than kids who aren’t graded.” – Alfie Kohn.

Grades are judgments. They were designed to sort people. They are subjective. The delivery of a grade disrupts learning. Grades do not capture the essence of the learning process or the dispositions that really matter in a meaningful life.

Grades turn education into a competition. They subliminally and – sometimes overtly – teach students that school is something that can be gamed. Rubrics are a desperate, futile attempt to capture learning with integrity.

Grades are the core of the measurement movement. The process of determining, recording, and communicating grades represents the greatest drain on teacher energy. This process damages learning.

Grades are toxic. Students, parents, and teachers are prisoners of the grading game. Wellbeing is often the first victim of this game. Grades turn students into adversaries. It’s a futile charade that turns many parents into neurotic, helpless helicopters. Talented teachers are encouraged to relinquish their passions at the altar of “results”.

Grades are what we know. They provide students with a sense of achievement. And failure. They give parents an idea of how their kids are doing, but provide no meaningful insights into who their child really is. Grades give teachers clear targets, keeping them on a treadmill of endless accountability. This is the “real world”.

Grades are the organising core of education. This is how we define successful learning. This is how colleges and universities make admissions decisions. This is how credentials are awarded. This is how job interviews are frequently filtered and determined. Grades must be really important. No one remembers them or the knowledge required to attain them.

Grades terminate the learning process. Most teachers dislike grades. When students receive thoughtful feedback on learning, they see only the grade. Parents look at the grades first. These are the revered currency of success. And failure.

Grades only apply to things that are measurable. Students who place an inordinate priority on grades are not truly effective learners. Motivation is intrinsic, yet schools are structured around a system of extrinsic rewards and controls subjugated by grades.

Grades are perturbing. People latently fear their implications. There’s a growing movement questioning the value and purpose of grades. Opponents of this movement point out – with some current veracity – that students still need to get into college and therefore grades are essential. This is a troubling argument.

Grades are not essential throughout education. Schools can be very different. Students, teachers and parents could be liberated from the constraints of constant judgment with relative ease. Grading and innovation are polar opposites.

Grades damage culture. They are an anachronism. Their days are – appropriately enough – numbered. It’s possible to measure learning in more humane ways. Grades are not in themselves the problem. Grading is. We can do better.

Imagine how learning might be enhanced if we could focus on learning without the imposed constraint of constant judgment.

Image credit @BryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery. Licensed under CC-BY-ND.