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 addition, we also know that not all students are ‘A’ students.  That’s okay!  You can be an outstanding student, outstanding school contributor, and earn a place in a good university, and grow into successful adulthood with less than ‘A’s!!  It’s about showing up, doing your best, developing your stamina to work hard and nurture the skills needed to be a lifelong learner.   It is about contributing, being involved, and finding your passions.  It’s not always about the grade!  Use the report card to gather insight into how you have been performing recently in the eyes of the adults you work with at school.

Unfortunately, the single grade can be useless for learning.  A single mark tells one very little about progress or about the range of skills developed or about the mastery of various pieces of knowledge.  It is a generalized statement that says very little.  In order to grow, more information is needed.  Yet, the transcript is what is sent to universities and the final IB exam grades are tallied to produce a singular number reflecting one’s Diploma success.  We remain caught in the world of grades and must navigate it appropriately and find balance between singular grades for the transcript, evidence of progress through marks on various assessments, written narrative comments, and other forms of feedback.

I urge students to reflect upon their grades and narrative comments from teachers.  In addition, students will receive a CAS report card.  CAS is a requirement at LCS.  Your CAS report card provides feedback as to your involvement thus far during this school year.   It’s important to review this CAS report card as well. In many ways, this CAS report card is a very strong indicator of who you are becoming through your involvement in activities and service as well as your contributions to LCS.  This report card may indicate much about your development in important areas of your life and is worthy of reflection.




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