Every year I hear new students in my room brag that they were straight “A” student. I then ask them what that means. This is when I get a blank stare and an “I don’t know.” This is very disheartening. If students do not know what their grades mean, then what is the point of having grades? I even challenge parents to question what their child’s grades mean. If a child has all “A’s”, what does that mean? Are they excellent in all subjects? Are they above and beyond all other students? They have everything correct with no questions or concerns? You see, in order for grades to mean anything, there needs to be meaning behind the grade.
If a student is given a math worksheet, scores a “C” on the worksheet, then the “C” is for the incorrect problems; right? We would like to think the score on a worksheet is a direct correlation to what was right and wrong. However, do students understand this correlation? Is it a direct correlation? If it is, then a straight “A” student never misses a problem. If that is the case, then a straight “A” student is above and beyond the rest of their peers. In reality, there should be very few straight “A” students. Personally, I find it a disservice to our students to pass them through with straight “A’s”, but do not give appropriate context as to what their grades actually mean.
In my class, I have told students that their grade is earned. I explain that “A’s” are earned through hard work and effort. I explained that their grade is determined by the amount of effort and hardwork they are willing to put into their assignments. I provide my students with rubrics that express exactly what it takes to earn an “A”. This shows them that there is a direct correlation between the work and effort they are willing to put into their work and the grade they receive. It also helps to show parents the rubrics and let them see the correlation for themselves. It helps students understand that they are responsible for their grades and what it takes to make the grade.
A significant piece of buy-in and understanding for students is meaningful feedback. If students are receiving grades with little to no meaningful feedback, then they have nothing to work from. All they see is a grade, but do not know why or what they need to work on. Feedback is vital to learning. Students need to be given reasons for why they scored what they did and how they can improve. Providing options and opportunities for retakes is also a way for students to work, earn, and take personal responsibility for their grades. Something we, as teachers, need to remember is that it is our job to get them to where they need to be academically, not almost get them there.
In the end, grades need to have meaning. If students don’t know what an “A” means or what a “C” represents, then students will never make a personal connection with their grades. If students are to have a personal learning experience, then they must be able to relate their grades to the amount of effort and work they put in. Meaningful feedback is crucial to the learning process, and it helps students make connections between their work and effort and the grade they received. By just handing out “A’s”, we do a major disservice to learning, our students, and our future. It falls under the same mentality as “everyone gets a trophy.” The truth is, only the ones willing to work hard, put in effort, and do what the rest won’t earn the trophy.