You’ve spent time crafting what you think is an “authentic” learning task, one that kids will really engage with and want to do their personal best. You carefully set out the reasons for the task, and offer numerous ways in which students could go about demonstrating their understanding and passion for the subject. 

What’s the first question they ask? 

“Is this going to be on the exam?”

“Are we being assessed on this?”

“What’s it out of?”

“What’s the weighting?”

After you patiently answer each of their questions, the students set about the task. Perhaps it is something they need to complete at home. Upon handing in their work, you take it home and give up precious personal or family time to offer insightful comments and feedback as to how they could improve as learners. 

You hand back the work in class. What’s the first question they ask? 

“What was the average?”

“What was the top mark?”

“What did you get?”

It’s apparent, to me at least, that many classrooms don’t really have a culture of learning. For a lot of students it’s a culture of performance, competition and by extension, anxiety that drives their experiences in school. 

Clearly schools can operate and do quite well encouraging a culture of competition. But what do we make of the fact that a great many of our ‘best and brightest’ kids are the ones who suffer the most from anxiety, perfectionism and are presumably the ones who are cheating their way to medical degrees – as highlighted in the Fairfax press in May this year. 

The fact is grades kill learning. 

As Dylan Wiliam, the director of the Learning and Teaching Research Center says, “If you write careful diagnostic comments on a student’s work, and then put a score or grade on it, you are wasting your time.

The students who get the high scores do not need to read the comments and the students who get the low scores do not want to”.

Get rid of grades and over time we can create a culture of learning. And you know the funny thing? It appears ‘The System’ agrees! 

That’s why every state and territory in Australia mandates that we give a grade to parents twice a year…

Not twice a week, month, term or semester. A YEAR.

Could your school operate with less emphasis on grades?