Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grades: The Poison that Slowly Kills the Love of Learning

Grades are evil.  There, I said it.  Somebody had to take a stand... might as well be me.

Why are grades bad?  Let's count the reasons:

1. Grades represent a form of extrinsic motivation (doing something simply for a reward).  Extrinsic motivators always result ina reduction of intrinsic motivation (doing something because you genuinely enjoy it).  When we are rewarded with extrinsic rewards, the effectiveness of the reward as a motivator decreases with time.  When we're rewarded with intrinsic motivators, there is no decrease in motivation over time.  This is why job satisfaction decreases over time- you're doing it for money (extrinsic reward).  How many of us have ever had a job we came to hate?  We hated it because we were doing it for a paycheck, not because we enjoyed the activity.  Compare that to volunteering.  In the absence of extrinsic motivators (i.e.- money), intrinsic motivation flourishes.  Volunteering never gets old because our motivation doesn't decrease over time.

2. It reminds us we're less than perfect.  You have a ceiling- typically 100%.  Anything below that ceiling is a failure to some degree. 

3. Grades are subjective, even when they appear to be objective.  The teacher ultimately determines the grades.  Even if a class is graded on purely objective tests (like multiple choice), the tests themselves were created using subjective means.  Ultimately this results in the teacher (or test creator) essentially assigning grades.

4. Grading is a game that can be infinitely manipulated.  Most teachers set the difficulty of their class to produce grades that are high enough so parents don't complain and low enough so administrators don't complain.

5. Grading cannot measure the qualities that make people successful... unless your definition of success is someone that earns good grades.  Don't believe me?  Check out this study.

6. Tests are not well-constructed because test design is a complicated matter.  I can guarantee the vast majority of teachers do not consider reliability and validity when making a test.  What to learn more?  Read through this Powerpoint before you design your next test.

7. Numbers are a horrible way to communicate complex human experiences like learning.  Some will claim grades can be used as a means of determining understanding.  Really?  This idea assumes kids will always give their full effort on a test and the test will accurately measure understanding. Let's face it- we like grades because it's a shortcut.  It allows us to classify students in a time-efficient way.

My solution- we eliminate grading across the board.  In my opinion, the cost of assigning grades cannot justify the convenience or supposed benefits.  What are your thoughts on grades?


  1. I agree with every word except the "Slowly" in your title.

  2. Fun fact: Did you know that Yale Law School (a school that I couldn't get into because of my GRADES) doesn't use a grading system. Students rather are rated Honors, Pass, Low Pass, and Fail. Students aren't ranked by grades.

    It's not exactly a no-grade system, but I think it keeps intrinsic motivation up.

  3. Strictly a no-grade system, but with H, P, LP, and F in place of A, B, C, and D.

  4. I do not believe in standardized testing, but I am not clear how a teacher can do his or her job without grading.

    Who needs more help? Who is ready to move on? Who are my better students? Who do I recommend for an honor HS?

    Those are all questions that need to be answered. No matter what you call those answers they are grades. A rose by any other name....

    1. the thing with grades is that a grade says how well you did on average. Say a person takes a test and they get a 70%, they by standards their effort would be ranked C or C- depending how said grading system works. This happens through out everyone's school career. At first many work had and get an A, in most cases its makes them feel like they did good, and become happy. As time goes on and people keep receiving the same grade, it becomes boring and unmotivating, cause even with the change in difficulty, your only ranked different if you happen to get a different average on that specific assignment

  5. I have mixed feelings about this as a parent. In our district grades aren't used at an elementary level. At times it has been really difficult as a parent to know how my kid is doing, and if there is something I should be genuinely concerned about.

    On the other hand, at an elementary level I don't think kids should be fretting about whether they received a B+ and an A-.

  6. Algebra 2: Got an A for Q1, D for Q2, and a B- for semester 1 due to my B- on the exam. Now, wouldn't it be nice if quarter grades (compromised of mostly homework) were omitted?

    My mom is going to freak out about my D. However, isn't it the semester that counts more? It shows that even though you didn't do so hot the first time, you now know things well enough to take an exam and pass it.

    Maybe schools should do more to let parents know it's mainly the semester grades that count. I know that I don't want my mom calling in and panicking about my grades... So I'll just take the long talk about studying more and having less fun/relaxing time on computer and stuff.

    Maybe I'll convince her to rake a gander at blogs like this that despise education today.. Thanks for letting me know that I'm not the only one that thinks the way stuff is currently handled is ridiculous.