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I Don't Care What Grades You Get in My Class

“I want to be very clear. I don’t care what grades you get in my class.” This is the proclamation I often make when I meet a new class for the first time. And it shocks them! It’s a sentence I repeat to my Year 12 classes when we prepare for their external exams, although by then they are a little more clued in, so are less taken aback.

I like doing this to get students’ attention, but I also like to remind them that they are not at school to get a grade. Schools serve an important function in modern society. According to The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, one of two overarching goals for Australian schools is that all young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community (Council of Australian Governments. Education Council, author, 2019).

In striving for this lofty goal, it is important for schools and teachers to measure their own success, and the success of their students. Grades that align to assessment standards are one way we can do that. What I endeavour to make abundantly clear to my students, is that the particular grade they get is irrelevant. What is relevant is what knowledge and skills they have acquired, and whether this knowledge and their skills are appropriate for each particular student. The goal is not an A+, the goal is to learn, and to develop their skills.


Grades are an extremely useful tool in the belt of an educator. They provide a way to quickly communicate a wealth of information about a student’s learning. Grades may be the most efficient form of human communication in the world. With minimal knowledge of the curriculum and its assessment standards, parents can gain insight into their child’s progress through their schooling journey by reading a single letter or number.

The problem is that we sometimes get so focused on the grades that they become the goal in and of themselves. We forget what they actually represent – learning.

They tell part of a story about the personal, lived experience of a child. It is this story that we need to continually keep in our minds and refer back to. Talking about grades without the context of this story is similar to talking about the score of a game without knowing the sport or the teams playing, pointless.

A relentless focus on a 15-point scale from E- to A+ where an A+ is celebrated as the pinnacle of success, misses the point. Without the context of the student’s story, it is meaningless, and won’t capture many of the successes that occur each and every day in the lives of our students.

It won’t capture the moment a student reads a full paragraph aloud to the class without mistaking a word – possibly the most impressive educational success they have had all year! It won’t capture the pride felt when a student is for the first time in their life able to help a classmate answer a question. It definitely won’t capture the 58% drop in students who say they love school that occurs between Prep and Year 9 .

So after my shocking opening, I follow with:

“I care that you are trying your best, you are improving, and you are achieving your learning goals.”

The buzz around the room quickly drops as the students realise I’m not quite the anarchist I first appeared to be.

So why do I do this? My goal with this trick is to change how students talk about grades and success. I want students to better understand that grades are one tool used to measure and report on learning, but that the goal is always the learning and there are other tools that their teachers are using each day to measure their success.

Students should be aware of their grades but should know that the grade itself is irrelevant without the context of the learner and their story. The story defines what success looks like for each student.


Ben Rerden
rerdenb@atc.qld.edu.au
Acting Assistant Dean of Learning – Student Development & Learning Analytics

References

Council of Australian Governments. Education Council, author. (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) education declaration Retrieved August 31, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-2391375250

Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. Don Mills, Ont: Pearson.