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 the traditional grading system does not do a good job of encouraging students to learn is that it takes away students’ interest in a given subject. They do not care about the content itself, but rather if the content will show up on their next test or assignment. If we implemented a system other than the traditional grading system, students would be choosing what’s important to learn on different priorities, not just by asking the question, “is this going to be on the test?” The system also prevents students from taking “intellectual risks.” For example, grades can make students take the easy way out when given an assignment. If given the choice to do a project on a topic that the student is familiar with versus a topic that they never heard of before, chances are the student will choose the familiar one in hopes of getting a high grade. Grades are supposed to be a motivation tool, but they only provide motivation for gaining the ability to earn good grades, not learning.

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.

Works Cited

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.

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6 Responses to Causal—aeks123

  1. davidbdale says:

    P2. I don’t think you mean this, exactly. “If we did not have the traditional grading system, students would not be choosing what’s important to learn and what’s not.” They would certainly be deciding what’s important to learn, but based on a different set of priorities, right?

    P2. Eliminate this; it’s pure repetition: [If it isn’t going to show up on a test or assignment then students have no desire to learn about it.]

    P2. State this as a bold declarative claim instead of as a weak rhetorical question: [Grades are supposed to be a motivation tool, but do they really provide motivation for learning, or motivation for gaining the ability to earn good grades?]

    P3. The blue notes are all about number disagreement. You can’t mix “a teacher” with “their,” for example.

    P3. [earn a good grade by not actually learning much at all.] Nobody earns a grade FOR not learning. You mean earn a good grade WITHOUT learning.

    P3. With “only,” placement is everything. The correct sentence would be: “parents care only about grades and colleges care only about GPA.”

    P4. Contains the most original thinking.

    P5. Pretty much everything has been said at least once by the time you repeat it here.

    You cover the ground ably, Aeks, but not compellingly. What the essay needs is less repetition of the primary claim—that students perform only to accomplish the grades they’ve figured out how to earn—and one or two illustrative examples that would persuade readers you’re onto something.

    We don’t know whether you mean:
    1. cramming for math tests by “learning” formulas just long enough to get to the end of the page, or
    2. figuring out that the English teacher just wants to see a lot of quotations and doesn’t care if they’re relevant to the argument, or
    3. concluding that being loud and aggressive in class discussions is more important to a social studies A than mastering any subject matter.

    Any or all of these (which took no longer to think of than they took to type) illustrations would be more persuasive than another echo of the claim that students stop caring about learning when they learn about getting good grades.

  2. aeks123 says:

    I’ll add in examples and re-read it to get rid of things I repeat. Do you think I should add another cause/effect to describe besides “grades prevent learning” to make things less repetitive? Or just add in more examples?

    • davidbdale says:

      Good question, Aeks. In general, the more perspectives you can bring to the topic, the more thoroughly you examine it and the less likely you are to repeat material. You’ve said nothing about the social aspect of grades. Your examples all have just one student in them. They’re also entirely subject-matter-blind. Readers (like me) are all thinking, “Can this be equally true for all courses?”

  3. davidbdale says:

    Aeks, this is the only grade holding you back. If you can do a revision that earns you a few points, your overall average will benefit tremendously.

  4. aeks123 says:


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