George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why Your Kid’s Grades Won’t Matter: Part One

Why Your Kid’s Grades Won’t Matter: Part One

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A few weeks back I received a grade for a class in which I was enrolled for my doctorate.  I received a B+ for 95%…that damn curve.  At first I was upset.  I thought "in what world is a 95% a B+" or "who curves grades anymore?, why is this happening to me?" or "why is the measurement of my learning affected by someone else's grade?"  And then it occurred to me:

Grades are Dead!

Sure they might not look dead, but they're gasping for their final breath of importance.  A hold over from a different time, like square school lunch pizza and overhead projectors, we will soon see the traditional A-F grading scale finally put out of its misery.

I say good riddance.  There are few things in this world that make less sense than the traditional model of grading.  It's really not surprising if you think about it, I mean how effective can any system be that is supposed to sum up weeks or months of learning into a symbol.  Do we do this in other places?  For example, later this month when the school year begins, the inevitable question will be asked "how was your summer?"  That's a hard question to answer, the summer is three months, filled with some great days, a few ok afternoons, and an occasional grumpy morning.  Nowadays many of us seem to take a lot of photos with our phones, but I bet people would look at me kind of funny if I showed them a photo summarizing my summer.

Now that you've viewed this picture do you feel like you have a good understanding of how my summer has been going?  Probably not.  Keeping with this example, let's imagine the summer of my dreams: I win the lottery, get to live in a big mansion, all my friends and family get to visit, the food is great, I do some traveling…oh but on the last day my family dies in bad accident.  So using our A-F logic, I was doing great for most of the summer and then had one really bad day, so the summer was about average…I might be able to even use the same picture.  Sound accurate?  No!  This is because averaging is often the worst way of measuring experience and learning.

Of course, I'm not the only one who thinks this.  I highly recommend you take a minute to look at this video by education guru, Rick Wormeli (especially around assessment).


So why do we do this to ourselves, who is this grading system serving? If A-F grading is so inaccurate, why don't we come up with a better system?  What's the future of grading?

All great questions we'll look at in part two, plus why your kid's future employer won't care about their grades, but will care greatly about what they've done and can do.

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Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

This is an interesting idea. Certainly the traditional A-F grading system isn't perfect, and may not always be the most accurate form of assessment. You say you believe that this type of grading will eventually disappear. I'm curious, what do you think will replace it? Ideally what do you imagine would be a better system? Looking forward to part 2, please share with us.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

So many thoughts here. My district axed traditional grades last year. Instead, we now use standards based report cards. Exceeding standard, Meeting standard, professing towards standard, etc... Parents flipped. They didn't understand the new system. They just wanted that letter grade. A or B = good. C= average (parents hate the C even though it's not a bad thing) D= horrible and F.

The new system sent the micromanager-teachers into a panic because they had to "prove" every mark they put in the book. That's a lot of "prove". Assessments went through the roof, which we all know is a bad direction. We all started putting fractional scores on papers. 8/10 might be progressing towards a standard. 10/10 meeting standard. It got a little crazy. The kids didn't understand the numbers, but they did understand (to a degree) their strengths and weaknesses.

When I interned at CTL (Nancie Atwell School) the whole school was based on a portfolio system. No Grades. The portfolios traveled with the students from K-8.

Grades have always bothered me (Getting them and giving them), especially with younger kids. I use a mix of different assessments, along with the required tests. Each year it changes depending on the number of students in my class and the class make-up.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

"So why do we do this to ourselves, who is this grading system serving? If A-F grading is so inaccurate, why don't we come up with a better system? What's the future of grading?"

What great questions you pose. Numerical and letter grades serve to distinguish and differentiate, which should not be the goal of education. It only creates tension and a culture of envy, inadequacy, and competition. A better system can be found in the culture of coaching. In a practice, players are constantly being evaluated on drills and in scrimmage play. They are continuously given instruction on how to improve their performance. As teachers, we should strive to given the same level of frequent, informal feedback to our students, improving their skills and bettering their performance.

Learn[ed]Leadership's picture

Hi Lina,

Replace it? That's a good question to which I can't fully predict. I'll post part two in a few days with more on where I think we'll go. Of course, ultimately, I think many schools will perceive that it's safer to keep the traditional form of A-F grading, only to realize later that its inaccuracies created a culture that doesn't aim towards true learning, and thus A-F grading is in fact not the safe choice, just the familiar choice. More thoughts to come soon. Thanks for your comments and if you're interested checked out for more of my thoughts and ideas.

Learn[ed]Leadership's picture

Hi Gaetan,

I'm sure it was interesting watching the new grading system roll out. It sounds like you witnessed it during the implementation dip. I don't know what the scenario was for the district you worked for and how much pre-rollout teaching they did, but of course, good ideas executed poorly in any industry can flop fast. Since you were there did you see anything that you think could have been done better? Were the teachers on board for the change? That's likely the most important element.

Learn[ed]Leadership's picture

Hi Brian,

I Like your sports analogy. Where I work we call it formative assessment. Giving kids constant feedback so they can continually improve their practice. Eventually, the higher level of this is helping students become their own advocates for what they've learned and what they needs to keep working on. From what I can tell this is something that is learned over time and needs to be in a culture where failing isn't penalized. Still, I agree, at the end of the term I squirm at summarizing it all into a final grade symbol. I think benchmarks with thorough comments can help with this. Thanks again for your comments and check out for part 2 coming soon.

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