Just Sayin’ Why Grades?

In education, we do so many things because it is the way we have always done things.  In terms of grading this is especially true.  We use the same form of grading that has been used for centuries!  We need to examine why we grade and how we grade.

I believe that it is human nature to rank.  It helps us to organize.  It can be useful and contribute to the “survival” of humans.  It helps us to set priorities.

In our schools, we use grades to rank the academic abilities of students.  Grades are also used as a form of feedback to students and their parents.  I believe that it is the latter goal that makes grading important.  Feedback is essential to motivation.  Our drive to “do better” seems to be inborn and again, a survival mechanism.

Using letter grades is so limiting, but as least at the high school level, it is the primary way we give our students feedback.  At my school we also have the option of a few prewritten comments made available through our grading software such as the classic “good work” or “attendance problem”.  All of us, teachers, parents and students “go along” with this system, rarely questioning its usefulness or its veracity.  Again I believe this is because “we have always done it this way”.  It is also a relatively quick and convenient way to give feedback.  It is time to reevaluate why and how we give grades.  Why has this system survived for so long?  Is it still relevant in today’s learning communities?


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