Jun 162009

Maybe while you, both parents and students, are reading this you actually feel quite anxious about the final marks coming up this week. A little reflection upon the importance of marks could be quite refreshing I should say. I hope that it will also make my students feel more relaxed when they get theirs… tomorrow!

What do grades mean? What should they mean? Are they over-emphasized?
How are grades connected to learning? Does the obsession with good marks affect the process of learning? Are there better ways to assess students’ learning?

Let us start reflecting on these thoughts dealing with good marks given to non-deserving students.

 «Grades are the worst system, except for all the others.»

 «Taking only one step up a mountain, when there are thousands more to go, and then being told that one step is more than enough, seems to cheat one out of reaching the summit and seeing the valley below. It is my own fault for not taking more steps and getting closer to the mountaintop, but it is not my fault for receiving a higher mark than I deserved. I was not given a chance to work hard for something, because slight efforts were enough.»

Have you ever wondered what the result would be of all students being given good marks? It is actually happening in many USA, UK and Canadian schools and colleges with the result tan right now the ‘B’ is coming to be defined as «average» and therefore beneath students’ expectations. It is a widespread feeling that they are hitting the ceiling and are running out of letters. Adding to this consider these statistics concerning the perception of students of their marks:

1985 2005


There are other considerations which are perhaps more important than the students’ perception.

 High grades are fraudulent when given to students who don’t deserve them.
 False feedback is bad for them, setting them up for failure.
 Feeds the worst aspects of narcissism and interferes with identity formation by under-rewarding excellence (the best students will feel no challenge) and over-rewarding mediocrity.
 Students do not learn their strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, what do we want from our educational system: Learning or credentials? Grades should be used for assessment and feedback, with the goal of helping students discover their strengths and nurture their abilities . They are crucial to identity formation: goals and purpose.
We adults should be responsible for these. Grading is subject to unavoidable injustice but not better way has yet been found. We must not forget, though, that the only basis for the system is to keep it biased, fair and, above all, realistic. All in all, the way of life has many turns and all our good and bad points cannot and need not be reflected on a piece of paper with an ‘A’ on it.
As Mr. Einstein put it:

«Not everything that counts can be counted and
not everything that can be counted counts.»


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