Why Grades Aren't Working

Are grades harming our students more than they are benefitting the education industry (Olson, 2006)? In the corporate-style education realm of today, the grading and point system has been relied upon heavily to measure how students are learning and teachers are teaching, but these systems don’t give an accurate depiction of what is actually happening in classrooms (Kohn, 2011). It has been shown that grading systems used as measures of assessment can be quite detrimental to the education process for many reasons. Often, students become less motivated because they are no longer learning for themselves or for the sake of learning, but they are learning as a measure of their self-worth (Richert, Ph.D.). This creates an environment where students are pitted against one another in constant competition. In addition, students tend to avoid intellectual risks because they fear getting bad marks, versus pushing themselves in ways that might make them grow (Kohn).

Part of the problem lies in our obsession with assessment--the wrong kind of assessment. Roger Lewin said, “too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve,” which describes one of the issues with grades in education. Instead of encouraging meaningful and authentic understanding in students, we are encouraging performance based on extrinsic motivations (Kohn). Grades are part of a rigid, antiquated schooling system established in the 19th century to train large groups of people for systemized labor, which treated education as a product and pupils like assembly line outputs (Olson). Jon Bender, a professor at Boise State University said of the grading system: “it’s a pseudo-objective arbitrary metric, that may or may not have anything to do with meaningful understanding. Further, it serves to reinforce students self-perceptions about intrinsic abilities, thereby undermining the development of a lifelong growth mindset,” (Bender, 2015). All in all, the grading system cannot show what students are missing in the classroom by simply putting a grade or number on top, and does not inspire students to stimulate their imagination, sense of inquisition as well as sense of individuality.

The idea of “authentic assessment” has been growing in notoriety as of late, and is something that many teachers would like to incorporate into their classrooms but may have limited means. This means that although some teachers may want to change the way that they assess their students and provide feedback, they are also stuck in the system of grading because of industry standards. In addition, some instructors simply feel that using any other system would be too time and energy consuming. Hence, another inherent issue with finding a modern replacement to the grading system (Bender).

Ultimately, the grading system is easy to use but needs to be replaced by a system that caters more to the 21st Century classroom. However, a new system that is capable of replacing the easy with the more effective has yet to be created which could rock the education world. Alfie Kohn concluded, “Grades don’t prepare children for the ‘real world’— unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant...Still, it takes courage to do right by kids in an era when the quantitative matters more than the qualitative, when meeting (someone else’s) standards counts for more than exploring ideas, and when anything ‘rigorous’ is automatically assumed to be valuable.  We have to be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, which in this case means asking not how to improve grades but how to jettison them once and for all.”


Bender, J. (2015, August 10). Grades As Assessment [Personal interview].

Kohn, A. (2011). The Case Against Grades. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from

Olson, K. (2006). The Wounds of Schooling. Education Week, 26(11), 28-29. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from

Richert, Ph.D., K. (n.d.). Why Grading on the Curve Hurts. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from