Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.1.1

Should we give grades?



•Readers will be able to identify why grades benefit students.

•Readers will be able to identify why grades benefit teachers.

•Readers will be able to identify negative impacts of grades.


Link to sample assessment (Assessment Resources 2008) This is an example of a grade 3 reading assessment. There are selected response multiple choice questions and brief constructed response samples. There is also information on the question's scoring evaluation. It summarizes score, objective of the question, what the answer should be, topic, and what type of assessment the question is. This is a great example of an effective assessment. This site has answers for any question that you may have with data analysis, user guides, instruction, and school improvement(Assessment Resources 2008).


William Farish, a tutor at Cambridge University in England in 1792, came up with a method of teaching which would allow him to process more students in a shorter period of time. He invented grades (Hartmann, 2005). This grading system had originated earlier in the factories as a way of determining if the shoes made on the assembly line were "up to grade." It was used as a benchmark to determine if the workers should be paid and if the shoes could be sold (Hartmann, 2005). This grading method increased the salary of William Farish, while at the same time, lessened his workload and reduced the hours he needed to spend in the classroom(Hartmann, 2005). He no longer needed to burrow into his students' minds to know if they understood a topic, his grading system would do it for him. And, it would do it just as efficiently for twenty children as it would for two hundred. Farish brought grades to the classroom, and the transformation was both sudden and startling. Within a generation, the lecture-hall/classroom shifted from a place where one heard the occasional speech by a famous thinker to the place of ordinary daily instruction (Hartmann, 2005).


Grades benefit students in many ways. Upon entering a new grade each year, teachers distribute their expectations and grading procedures to each student. These guidelines let students know upfront what is expected of them academically and behaviorally. Most teachers also post bad behavior consequences in their classrooms and how repeated offenses can effect their grades. This information equipts the students with the knowledge to excel or to fail. There is also an understood grading scale that is in place that remains the same from kindergarten through highschool. Assessments of skill and learning are promoted through quizzes, tests, projects, and verbal communication.


Grades benefit parents because it gives them an opportunity to evaluate their children's behavior and performance at school. This gives parents an opportunity to intervene if necessary to support their children and make sure that they are given every available resource if needed to succeed. A child may have learning disabilities that need to be addressed or may need extra tutoring in a subject that doesn't come as easy to them as another. Parent involvement is key to their child's success rate in school. If a child does not get the proper support from home, they will have a very hard time excelling in their education.


1. What is the purpose for grades? (class rank, sorting, motivation)

2. What is the audience for the grades? (student, parents, colleges,employers)

3. What criteria are considered? (tests, projects, effort, attitude, homework)

4. What is the system used for grades on report cards? (letter, number, narrative)

5. How to define terminology of grading? ( an A = ?, 4.0 = ?) 6. How to communicate the system to stake holders? (conferences, meetings)

7. Is the grading system grounded in sound measurement principles? (research based)

8. Does the grading system provide valid measurement of student achievement?

9. Do the teachers need staff development on grading practices?

10. What does the grade a student receives on the report card really indicate?

(Guskey, 16)


Letter grades are a simple indication of learning progress (Frisbie & Waltman, 35). Their use requires abstracting a great deal of information into a single symbol. The more detailed methods also have their drawbacks. Narratives and checklists of learning outcomes offer specific information for documenting progress, but good narratives take time to prepare, and comments become standardized. Regardless of the method used, grading and reporting remain inherently subjective. The more detailed the reporting method and more analytic the process, the more likely subjectivity will influence the results (Frisbie & Waltman, 35). This principle is critical to an understanding of all grading methods because many teachers, parents, and students believe that more complicated methods are more objective than less complicated methods (40). A simple checklist describing what the student knows and is able to do is inherently more objective than a score on a standard test arrived at through a complicated method (11). Teachers often report that grades determined from their own performance testing are not as objective as grades determined from commercial tests. This assumption continues to be debated. The teacher’s determination of a student’s grade from teacher-made tests and performance checklists based on the curriculum are more reliable (11).


Many researchers, educators and parents are now questioning the purpose and effectiveness of grades. Certainly parents deserve to know how their children are doing in school, and students benefit from understanding how they are performing, but how that progress is communicated can have a great impact on how a child learns (Kohn, 1999). Alfie Kohn, author of The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” and Punished by Rewards, writes extensively about the influence of grades on learning. The research suggests three consistent effects of giving students grades or leading them to focus on what grade they’ll get (Kohn, 1999). First, their interest in the learning itself is diminished. Second, they come to prefer easier tasks, not because they’re lazy, but because they’re rational. After all, if the point is to get an A, your odds are better if you avoid taking intellectual risks. Third, students tend to think in a more superficial fashion and to forget what they learned more quickly when grades are involved (Kohn, 2000). To put it positively, students who are lucky enough to be in schools or classrooms where they don’t get letter or number grades are more likely to want to continue exploring whatever they’re learning, more likely to want to challenge themselves, and more likely to think deeply. The evidence on all of these effects is very clear, and it seems to apply to students of all ages (Kohn, 2000).


Just as you don’t need tests to learn how well each student is doing, you don’t need grades to communicate an evaluation back to the students and their parents (Kohn, 1999). You can use narrative reports, such as qualitative summaries of progress in written form, or, you can have conferences with students and their parents to discuss how things are going (Kohn, 2000). Many schools have abolished grades entirely, and these tend to be places where students are far more engaged with what they’re learning. Some high schools have done this, and their students don’t appear to be at any disadvantage when it comes to college admission. We all know that changing the education system is a long process (Kohn, 2000). While this issue of grades plays out, what can teachers do to minimize the potentially negative impact that grades have? Here are two concrete things teachers can do. First, even if they’re forced to give students a grade at the end of the term, they should avoid putting a number or letter on individual assignments. This helps to make grades as invisible as possible for as long as possible and therefore minimizes the harm they do when students are thinking about them. Second, teachers can help neutralize the destructive effects of grades and support students’ autonomy at the time same by allowing students to participate in deciding what grade they’ll get at the end (Kohn, 2000).


1. Who is the inventor of grades?

A. William Farish

B. Carol Stanley

C. Michael Buchannon

D. Victor Smith

2. What is considered an alternative grading system?

A. Report Card

B. Narrative Report

C. General Rubic


3. Johnny was assigned a science project on the life cycle of a plant. He did a diagram and turned it in to his teacher. What are some ways this project could be graded?

A. By using a general Rubic

B. By using the Standards of Learning

C. By using an outline

D. By looking it up on the internet

4. Who should decide what type of grading system should be used?

A. The teacher

B. The principle

C. The state government

D. The federal government

1.  A
2.  B
3.  A
4.  A


Frisbie, D., & Waltman, K. (1992). Developing a personal grading plan. Educational Measurement: Issues, 11, 35-42.

Guskey, T. (1994). Making the grade: What benefits students? Educational Leadership, 52, 14-20

Hartmann, Tom. (2005). The World's Most Famous Lazy Teacher.

Kohn, Alfie. (1999) Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes

Kohn, Alfie. (2000) The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"

School Improvement in Maryland. Assessment Resources (2008)

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