Most folks who know me also know how I feel about grades.

I am not a fan.

And the reasons that I dislike grades so much are easy to understand. They stop learning. They create unhealthy pressure on kids. They don’t give students a way forward. They don’t successfully accomplish their primary goal: to communicate learning progress with stakeholders.

But, in the words of the great Thomas Guskey, grades can be useful, if they meet four conditions:

  1. Grades must be assigned to performance, not to students. By this, he means that we should make it clear to students that a grade is about measuring their learning and not a personal insult. Of course, this is true. But the problem is that the history of grades makes this impossible. Students (and their parents) have been punished by grades for their behavior/attention/participation.

  2. Grades must be criterion-based, not norm-based. Agreed.

  3. Grades must be seen as temporary. Yes, definitely. But how? Grades are recorded on report cards and cumulative folders and are used as part of the GPA to determine eligibility for everything from sports to scholarships. Saying that grades would be useful if they were temporary is like saying that knives would be safer if they weren’t pointy. The issue is that they are.

  4. Grades must be accompanied by guidance for improvement. Definitely. But they aren’t. It feels like Guskey is trolling the gradeless community by basically saying that grades aren’t so bad, as long as they do all these things that they don’t do (and gradeless systems do).