I Am a Teacher, and I Hate Grades

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Matthew Thiele

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I teach English. Evaluating student writing takes forever. Beginning writers, who make up the bulk of my students, make a lot of mistakes, and understanding those mistakes and giving appropriate feedback takes focus, understanding, sensitivity, and generosity. That’s part of the job, and I take my obligations seriously, but my job would be easier and more pleasant if I didn’t have to assign grades.

What do grades do? What purpose do they serve? Norfolk Public Schools optimistically states that grades “Provide information and feedback that students can use for self-evaluation and growth.”

Grades have some use for predicting academic success in college. As a 2007 study by Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices shows, high school GPA is still the best predictor of student success beyond k-12 education. But common sense should tell us that anyway. If k-12 education purports to prepare students for college success, it would be a complete travesty if it didn’t do at least that.

The collective fantasy, almost universally accepted, is that grades reward achievement and punish laziness. It’s relatively easy to pierce the delusion.

It turns out that grades are actually a poor indication of student progress and effort. Even when students…

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Matthew Thiele

Teacher. Satirist. Scholar. Published in Slackjaw, Points in Case, McSweeney’s, Ben Jonson Journal, and elsewhere. Definitely not a representative of GSU.