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I came across an article shared on Twitter this morning that really hit home.  (Thanks to @shighley on the #SBGchat) It was written by a mother of an 8th grader who was worried about her son’s high grades. Yes, his high grades. She goes on to explain ignored assignments, failed tests, and a general avoidance of school work. Her issue is that the feedback her son is receiving from teachers doesn’t seem to match the work her son is putting into his school work. His teachers “acknowledged the problem but put a chunk of the blame on report card limitations. There was no level between progressing well and progressing with difficulty.”


The article goes on to talk about how teachers should be honest with students. When they fail, they should be made aware of it. When good marks are given to help a student’s self -esteem, the short term benefits don’t outweigh the long term effects. The author goes on to mention that she would “like to think the problem lies with schools, teachers and grading…”.




We at Effective SC couldn’t agree more with the last word of that statement. A large part of the problem lies in the grading. Teachers, schools, and districts are bound by a system of assessment and promotion that measures the wrong thing. Schools, and for that matter any place where learning can occur, should be built around two basic ideas:

  • learning can happen
  • does happen at different paces for different people

If teachers are concerned about the learning that takes place, then they should be enabled and empowered to measure it. Standing in their way are requirements to give an end of course mark that some how summarizes everything learned,  requirements to march through curriculum at a predetermined pace no matter if it is actually learned, and requirements to allow student to progress to the next class even when students have not truly mastered the current content.

Rocking the boat and shifting processes that are ingrained in our culture is not an easy thing to do. Some teachers, schools, and districts have begun to move away from these traditional grading practices and systems of promotion that have allowed students to coast through school without the end results we all wish for.

High dropout rates. Low graduation rates. High college remediation rates… not what we our our students need.

Let’s spend some time and energy to figure out why our grades are not working and what steps we can take to fix them.



Effective SC

Effective Social Change is an organization devoted to using technology and process to encourage social growth. If you would like to work with us, or believe we might be able to help you, please let us know.