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Do Students Need Grades to Prove They Have Been Successful?

Do Students Need Grades to Prove They Have Been Successful?

When you see the final grades posted for your students at the end of a class, what is your reaction to those grades? How do you feel when students earn an “A” and others do not earn a passing grade? For many instructors grades are a source of anxiety because of the perceptions related to these outcomes, regarding student learning and teaching practices. While grades will always be a required component of classroom facilitation, instructors can address the reality of what grades indicate by considering their relationship to student success.

Grades are a factor for every class and students often talk about getting good grades. Some students look for the grade first, rather than reviewing feedback provided that discusses how points were earned to arrive at the final grade. Through prior experiences students may hold a belief that grades are subjectively assigned, which is confirmed when the only feedback received is a score. When detailed feedback is provided from an objective point of view it addresses such factors as the content and mechanics of the assignment submitted, which places an emphasis on how the score was earned.

A starting point for instructors to address the issue of grades is to consider them to be a cumulative result rather than a measure of what the students are capable of doing. Grades indicate a snapshot in time when students are making satisfactory progress or struggling in their developmental efforts. Learning and knowledge creation is an ongoing process that is measured through learning objectives and outcomes rather than scores. Instructors may find that they can have more of impact on student outcomes by emphasizing the need to build on students’ strengths and finding resources to address areas of needed development.

Instructors may also find it beneficial to emphasize the process of learning throughout the class rather than final outcome. When students are motivated to participate in the process of learning, when they are encouraged to expand their capacity to learn and experience a supportive environment they are likely to find success. That success will generate a positive outcome and through these productive efforts a “good grade” will likely follow. Teach students to believe in their capabilities, acknowledge their contributions and developmental efforts, and you are likely to find that they will be more concerned about what they have learned and less focused on the grade they should have or could have received by the end class.