Do Teachers “Give” Grades?

girl thinking of a gradeYou know that whole back-and-forth exchange where a student thinks that a teacher “gives” grades, and the teacher responds that the student actually earns the grade?

Unfortunately, in many cases the student’s perception might be closer to the truth. Not in your classroom, you say? Well, let’s hope so, but humor me a moment and let’s take a closer look.

Have you ever taken off points for work being turned in late? How about grant extra credit points? What about deducting points for grammar on an assignment that was for a topic other than writing?

If you have done any of those things, it raises the question, “What, exactly, are you measuring?”

If I want to know the student’s level of mastery on a particular concept, will that grade accurately reflect student mastery, or is it muddied by a bunch of other unrelated variables increasing or decreasing the percentage score?

The real world argument usually pops up right about now, so let’s address it.

Is meeting deadlines important? Sure. In the real world, will not meeting deadlines cause a deduction in pay? Yes, usually by 100% because the person will likely lose that job or find one that doesn’t have deadlines. To repeat: doesn’t have deadlines. Those jobs exist. And what about writing that is free of errors? Editors exist for a reason.

But before we spend too much time discussing how prevalent those jobs are, we can just stop and realize something very important:

A class isn’t a job. A typical classroom looks nothing like the real world. So why are we insisting that grades be twisted to somehow reflect the real world when very little else of what goes on in the typical classroom manages that (unless you count an old-style factory or a prison system as real world, but that’s another topic).

Whether the student is aiming for a career with no, few, or many deadlines, or one that requires strong or no writing skills, our job is to provide a solid educational foundation where key skills and concepts are mastered. Grades are, or should be, a reflection of that measurement. If a student is struggling with grammar, that is a skill area that needs to be addressed while allowing the student to move ahead in other concepts that are mastered. Use those teachable moments! Note the grammar errors and offer help in fixing them; however, don’t adjust the grade unless the assignment itself is about writing.

If you do adjust the grade for things such as grammar, the grade fails to accurately reflect the mastery of the concept being assessed. The grade no longer measures what it claims to measure. Not only does it seem more “given” than earned, it is also useless in determining student progression in learning.

Making grades useful – for both formative and summative purposes –  is essential for a mastery-based learning programs. It also nurtures student motivation and sense of empowerment in earning those grades.


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