What’s in a Grade?

The estimated reading time for this post is 2 minutes


(If you have more questions on grading practices, check out The Power of Grades )

What’s in a Grade? Part 1

I checked my son’s grade the other night on aeries, and noticed that he got a 50% on his last unit test, which brought his grade down to a D.  I have been noticing his frustration when doing assignments, and his interest in math is waning.  He is 10 years old in the 5th grade, and math has never been his favorite subject, but this is the first time his grade has been so low.  As his mother, and having been a math teacher for over 10 years, I know that how he looks at himself and his ability in relation to his grade is critical.  I don’t associate his grade with his potential or his identity, but does he?    

Charlie, from the New York Department of Education studied non-traditional grading, and is now a part of the Mastery collaborative that supports schools transitioning to mastery grading. In an interview, she discusses how students often take on the identity of the grades that they get in a way that’s not healthy for their education. She mentions students’ identifying themselves as a “C student, or an A student,” talking as if they have a fixed ability in that subject.  If our understanding in a subject is not fixed, then how can something as fixed as a grade help a student to improve and continue on their journey to learn?

Charlie points out studies done by psychologists in the 1980’s on engagement and grading.   One group of students were given only feedback, and another group were given a grade and feedback.  The group given the grade were significantly less likely to want to re-engage, or study the material in the future, which offers insight into how students interpret grades.  Knowing this, supporting my son has been about using questioning techniques to support him in thinking about his thinking and persevering in his learning.

After tutoring and feedback from his teachers, and support at home, as a team we were able to identify the mistakes he was making, and he was able to show mastery of the content, even though it was after the unit test.  His grade continues to improve, I believe in part because his teachers and I are interested in finding the gaps in his learning, and encouraging him to keep trying. The grade by itself doesn’t tell us or my son very much, except that there is a gap in his understanding somewhere, and it is up to us to find out what that is.  As my son continues on his educational journey, I hope that he will not identify with a grade, but that he will instead focus on learning.  I hope that he will continue to dive in, to be interested, to take on the challenge, and never give up.  I hope that he will remember that although the grade might tell him something about where he’s been at a specific moment in time, it does not have to be an indication of where he is now or where he is going.  

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