How Grades Prevent Learning
P1. The traditional grading system, which rates students on a letter scale to measure their learning, is not effective for measuring how well students learn. Not only is the system pointless for college institutions, it can actually prevent students from learning in the grade school and high school level. Most of us agree that there needs to be something in place to measure how well a student learns for teachers, parents, and employers. Alfie Kohn states in “The Case Against GRADES,” that collecting information doesn’t require tests, and sharing that information doesn’t require grades.” In other words, better options are available to share a student’s learning with those who are concerned. The traditional grading system measures how well a student can earn grades based on a teacher’s standards, and hinders them from learning.
P2. Kohn, in the “The Case Against GRADES,” points out that one of the reasons
P3. Students know how to work the system when it comes to grades. It is easy for them to quickly pick up on how a teacher grades. With the current system, teachers grade very differently. They can set their own standards and expectations. Most teachers include other factors in their curriculum that have nothing to do with how much a student learns in a subject. For example, students can realize that if they show up to class, are on their best behavior, and show that they are putting in at least some effort, they can earn a good grade without not actually learning much at all. For example, students could possibly earn an A in a social studies class by being loud and aggressive in classroom debates. Or maybe students can earn a A on english paper by figuring out that adding in a lot of quotations in their work will impress their teacher, but the overall quality of the paper isn’t good. Being loud in debates and copying quotations doesn’t show mastery in any academic subject. This teaches students the wrong mindset for the future. If students know how to get good grades, then there is no motivation for learning. After all, parents care only about grades and colleges care only about high GPAs, so why would students care about actually learning if they know how to get good grades? Kohn states that “Grades don’t prepare students for the real world—unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant.”
P4. Although one of the primary purposes of grading is to provide motivation, grades can discourage students, creating a factor that serves as yet another distraction to learning. Being constantly compared to the grades their classmates receive can significantly lower self-esteem. Students who continuously receive low grades may see that as a reason to stop trying, especially if a single low grade ruins their chances of getting a good final grade in the class. Theodore Carey and James Carifio note in “Minimum Grading, Maximum Learning,” that “students who expend high effort and fail will often work to protect their perception of their ability by adopting avoidance strategies. If exerting high effort is seen as a threat to self-worth, exerting low effort becomes a way of preserving it.” So if someone spends a lot of time and effort on an assignment, but receives a low grade, then the chances are low that the same amount of effort will be used on the next assignment. The amount of effort a student gives revolves back to the main problem with grades. If grades were not focused on the ability to receive good grades, then effort would not be as big as an issue.
p5. The only goal for students is to perform well enough in the classroom to get them to the next step in their education. Usually, students do not have a desire to learn information and skills that will help them in the real world, since all they have been taught is the importance to earn good grades. As stated in “The Case Against GRADES,” “The more students are led to focus on how well they’re doing, the less engaged they tend to be with what they are doing.” Focusing on what grades are earned instead of what is being learned can lead students to have a hard time adjusting. Realizing that grades are not as important as they were said to be, college students now have to be fully engaged in what they are doing, while still having grades in the back of their mind as a distraction.
Carey, Theodore, and James Carifio. “Minimum Grading, Maximum Learning.” Principal Leadership 11.7 (2011): 42-46. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Kohn, Alfie. “The Case Against GRADES.” Educational Leadership 69.3 (2011): 28-33. Educational Administration Abstracts. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.