What are grades for? Why do we grade students?

Report Card time!

In U.S. schools, grades became part of the fabric of education in the late 1800’s. A need existed to separate students according to how well they were learning the content of the curriculum.  Was the reason for grading to attempt to motivate students?  Perhaps it was.

We aim to communicate achievement and learning with our grades.  We aim to provide feedback to students and parents about how well students are progressing.  We are not interested in ranking students nor do we ever group students around their grades.  We do, however, want to make sure that the feedback students and parents receive from grades is a true and honest indicator of learning.

In addition, narrative written comments from teachers provide additional feedback and information which should be used to effect learning, work habits, and spurn reflective conversations with parents and children.  It is clear that narrative comments are essential to rounding out the communication on a report card. They offer a personal message from teacher to student.

Feedback to students is critical to learning.  Research shows that the single most important tool in a teacher’s toolbox for learning is their ability to provide timely and high quality feedback.  Report cards should be seen in this light.  It is feedback and it is time to reflect upon that feedback.

However, grading and reporting are NOT essential to the learning process. Timely and constructive feedback is important for learning but not grades.  So what are grades for and why do we grade students?  The grades must be seen as a way to provide feedback about progress towards specific criteria.

Most students want to achieve high grades.  For students who wish to receive higher grades, what do they need to do in order to earn those grades?  In Continue reading