Why Do Grades Hold So Much Power Over Our Children’s Futures?


Just read this article in Education reimagined and I have to share it with you here. We know it is true, but still, we do nothing to fix it. When the grade is the focus, we tend to lose our intrinsic motivation, and school becomes a sort of game to be won before “real” life begins.

I have written about this book earlier “The End of Average by” Todd Rose, and it is one I highly recommend. The video below is the story he starts his book with. The Air Force realized performance results for pilots were improved when they stopped designing for “average” but made jet cockpits adjustable. It’s a story of how a clear and pragmatic change can have big results. Time for one in school?

The question is simple: Do we prefer to place greater value on grades or on learning itself?

If it’s the former, why should we be surprised when students select easier classes—or “bird courses”— to boost their grades and cumulative GPAs rather than the courses that are more challenging or interesting to them? And, how can we blame our public schools for spending so much time on literacy and numeracy when we know that a teacher’s job security is being disproportionately determined by reading and math scores?

We already know how the rest of the story goes. Once everyone is gaming the system, the system itself becomes a race to the bottom. And, sure enough, studies show that when any of us base our sense of self worth on external factors such as grades, status, or rank, it leads to low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health issues.

Becoming a life-long learner requires appreciating the process of learning and focusing on being able to master things.

By contrast, in a mastery- or learning-focused system that is not about grades, there might still be an assessment or a rubric that lays out what learners need to know and be able to do. But, the purpose of the rubric is to provide a learner with information about where she may need to continue focusing her efforts. In theory and in practice, all learners have a chance to keep improving until they have reached a level of mastery or acceptable performance.

Some will wonder: Then how will we know who is better?

And here, we must ask ourselves: Better at what?

The universal objective is not to be better than anyone else; it is to be one’s best self.

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2 comments

  1. Awesome article! Love the book as well.

    On Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 10:32 AM Connected Teaching and Learning wrote:

    > Ann S. Michaelsen posted: “Just read this article in Education reimagined > and I have to share it with you here. We know it is true, but still, we do > nothing to fix it. When the grade is the focus, we tend to lose our > intrinsic motivation, and school becomes a sort of game to be won” >

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