Grades and Apathy

As a High School Principal I have many conversations with kids, families, and teachers about grades.  I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the way these conversations always focus on attaining a numerical value.  Rarely do the conversations begin with discussions about concepts and skills that need to be mastered.  The hyper focus on attaining this acceptable number has contributed to entire school communities missing the point.  Unfortunately, this obsession doesn’t end with high school graduation.  College students routinely go to class and promptly forget information after earning their desired grade.

This grading crisis causes us to miss the real power and process of learning.  We continue to learn on the job after college graduation, but don’t earn a grade for our efforts.  Yet, none of us would dare label this learning as unimportant.  Learning should be a natural part of our growth and development and isn’t something that can be summed up in a number between 0 and 100.  Wd don’t earn grades for learning to tie our shoes or for reading a book to become a better manager, but for some odd reason we become hyper focused on these digits for the better part of our developmental years within the walls of a school.

I believe that our obsession with these arbitrary numbers results in apathetic and unengaged teenagers.  These apathetic attitudes frustrate teachers because students do not own their learning and only care about the number at the end of the course.  We have to do something different.  When families ask how their child can earn a passing grade we must be willing and able to shift the narrative.  Conversations must fundamentally shift to the progress students are making on the concepts and skills they are learning.  Furthermore, students should not just be answering questions, but learning to develop and answer their own questions.  This is, after all, how learning will occur after they finish formalized education.

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