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Do Grades Matter?


Today I finished my 2nd term report cards, so naturally my mind has been on grades a lot, lately.  To some kids, grades are all-important to their self-esteem and how they view themselves, while others don’t appear to care.  Parents are much the same way.  (When I was on the receiving end of report cards, I was in the former category.)

This of course begs the question: how important are report cards, really?  How important are grades?  My short answer is: moderately.

Some parents put an awful lot of pressure on their kids to do well in school.  I’ve seen panic attacks in my elementary classroom over bad grades.  Now, I do think parents need to have high expectations and to value education, but at some point it gets ridiculous.  Yale won’t care about your child’s elementary report card.

Report cards can’t measure everything there is to know about a student, of course.  Grades are only going to be as representative of a student’s abilities as a teacher’s assessments are, be they written or spoken.  And, of course, some students don’t test well, or just are having a bad day on the day of a really big test and end up blowing it.  If a kid is having trouble at home, they generally do worse at school.  The list of special circumstances is endless.

Some kids become enormously discouraged by bad grades.  Some feel stupid and give up on their education. This can be enormously damaging to their self-esteem and future success.

So, some schools and teachers are trying to avoid damaging their students’ precious self-esteem by abolishing tests and/or grades.  They’ve decided to help prepare children for the future by protecting their self-esteem at the expense of their ability to deal with challenges and high expectations.

Kids need objective standards they are expected to meet.  Projects and performance assessments are great ways to get students excited about learning, but at some point, there has to be a test.

“Real life” (or, life after school) has lots of tests: interviewing for a job, trying to get raises and promotions, pitching your ideas to supervisors, etc.  There are consequences for not preparing or doing your work well.  Kids need to learn this before they get to “real life.”

So, grades are pretty important.  The precise grade on any one test or any given subject isn’t necessarily important, but having grades is important.  Students need to learn to work hard in spite of their “special circumstances” to be successful in school.  Then they will be able to work hard in spite of their “special circumstances” later in life.  For, after all, the foremost job of schools is to teach students the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful when they have finished school.



  1. […] approach standardized test scores much the same way I do grades (see my earlier post, Do Grades Matter?): any given test score isn’t really all that important.  Any little thing can make a kid […]

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