A grid of portraits of six children, each with a litter grade on their shirt


Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.  A “grading orientation” and a “learning orientation” have been shown to be inversely related and, as far as I can tell, every study that has ever investigated the impact on intrinsic motivation of receiving grades (or instructions that emphasize the importance of getting good grades) has found a negative effect.

The Case Against Grades (##) – Alfie Kohn

Grades are not only statistically useless, they have been acting as academic gatekeepers for millions of students, unjustly sorting, sifting, and selecting which students get to go where and why.

It’s reassuring to know that so many teachers and schools are going gradeless. It’s not just a moral decision, it’s a mathematical one. Continuing to apply grades are visible reminders that schools are not only amoral–and anachronistic–in their philosophy, they are also mathematically illiterate.

Grading Gets An F: A Mathematician’s Guide To The Absurdity of Numerical Assessment | Human Restoration Project | Sunil Singh
Grading is a Scam (and Motivation is a Myth) | A Professor Explains

The grading and ranking of children perverts everything.

Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.  Impress upon students that what they’re doing will count toward their grade, and their response will likely be to avoid taking any unnecessary intellectual risks.  They’ll choose a shorter book, or a project on a familiar topic, in order to minimize the chance of doing poorly — not because they’re “unmotivated” but because they’re rational.  They’re responding to adults who, by telling them the goal is to get a good mark, have sent the message that success matters more than learning.

The Case Against Grades (##) – Alfie Kohn
The Problem with Grades & Grading feat. Zoe Bee

Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.  They may skim books for what they’ll “need to know.” They’re less likely to wonder, say, “How can we be sure that’s true?” than to ask “Is this going to be on the test?”  In one experiment, students told they’d be graded on how well they learned a social studies lesson had more trouble understanding the main point of the text than did students who were told that no grades would be involved.  Even on a measure of rote recall, the graded group remembered fewer facts a week later (Grolnick and Ryan, 1987).

The Case Against Grades (##) – Alfie Kohn
Ungrading: What does research say about grades & grading? | Human Restoration Project

Grades don’t prepare children for the “real world” — unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant.  Nor are grades a necessary part of schooling, any more than paddling or taking extended dictation could be described that way.  Still, it takes courage to do right by kids in an era when the quantitative matters more than the qualitative, when meeting (someone else’s) standards counts for more than exploring ideas, and when anything “rigorous” is automatically assumed to be valuable.  We have to be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, which in this case means asking not how to improve grades but how to jettison them once and for all.

The Case Against Grades (##) – Alfie Kohn

As expected, lower report card grades predicted lower emotional and behavioral engagement in spring, when controlling for prior levels of engagement. These links were mediated by students affective reactions… Complementing the traditional view that grades are consequences of school engagement, the current findings suggest that grades function also as antecedents of school engagement.

Do Grades Shape Students’ School Engagement? The Psychological Consequences of Report Card Grades at the Beginning of Secondary School. | Semantic Scholar

Thus, in this instance at least, the theory that grades are a strong motivating actor for classroom performance does not stand up to the scrutiny of statistical analysis.

A Second Look at Grading and Classroom Performance: Report of a Research Study – MOELLER – 1993 – The Modern Language Journal – Wiley Online Library

Further reading,