Grades kill students’ motivation, suggests this Maclean’s article, which deplores the return of letter grades in Canada.
I give the story a C-. It muddles several issues: What should students be taught? How should performance be evaluated? How should results be reported to parents?
Grades are a reporting mechanism that’s easy for parents to understand. Descriptions of developmental stages are simply a more complicated way to say the same thing: Your child is below or at or above the average for comparable students.
I remember when San Jose Unified introduced “developmental assessments” of students. Parents, many of whom had trouble reading in English, were asked to wade through educationese to figure out how their kids were doing. For example, “developing” reader meant “can’t read.”
I’m also dubious of Alfie Kohn’s argument that grades lower students’ motivation to learn for its own sake. Yes, that can happen. But when students are evaluated only by themselves, they don’t really know whether they’re progressing. It’s very useful to get objective feedback from an outsider who knows more about the subject than the student.
Grades aren’t measures of intelligence or potential; they’re sign posts on a journey. If the sign says you’re 100 miles from Chicago, that’s where you are right now. You have to decide whether you want to go to Chicago or Peoria or somewhere else. You can take down the sign. But you’re not in Chicago.