The Bottom Line Grades Have to Go

Letter grades should be left in the past. In an article on, author Madeline Will argues for the importance of removing letter grades from the classroom. She articulates that “The traditional A-F system doesn’t inspire students to learn for the sake of learning. Grades are too heavily based on nonacademic factors, like punctuality and compliance. They stress some students out and cause others—particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds—to give up.”

At the heart of the problem is a resistance to innovation: “[T]he traditional grading system is entrenched in America’s schools, and educators who experiment with grades have faced pushback from administrators, teachers, parents, and students themselves. And many school districts are not logistically set up for making radical grading changes, educators say. “

The grading issue is but one part of a broken education system. Since the early years of the twentieth century, schools have operated on a group-based learning system in which performance is assumed to follow a bell-shaped curve. It is predetermined that some students will receive an A while others will receive an F. The approach is significantly antiquated. Statistically, it is unsound due to the fact that the average size of a classroom is too small to assume a normal intelligence distribution. Furthermore, intelligence is not the sole determining factor of performance or one’s ability to learn. Motivation, self-discipline, effort, and access are also important factors affecting a child’s ability to learn. The approach is also educationally unsound due to the assumption that a certain percentage will succeed and a certain percentage will fail. As Starr Sackstein, an opinion blogger states, “When we start … understanding that kids aren’t numbers or letters, they’re complex people who often require a lot more than that—it’s not that we don’t want to give it to them, but I think we sometimes feel burdened by the extra responsibilities in the school system.”

Clearly the system is outdated. All children are different, and the group-based system will never allow for children to reach their full potential. Children have disparate learning needs, dissimilar learning interests, and different learning readiness. What is needed is a system that encourages the performance of every child. As Don Nielsen writes in his book Every School, “By changing our system to focus on learning of the individual child, we will begin ensuring that every child learns.”

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
Are you concerned about educating the next generation?
The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?