Going Gradeless in Elementary – Part 2

In my last post, I shared a little about the work that we’ve been doing in our classroom about taking a position and being able to effectively argue. Students have been learning to write argumentative essays and the importance of making sure that they offer supporting details to back up their positions. In this post, I will be sharing insights from students who believe that grades should be eliminated in Elementary schools. 

No to Grades

“Grades do not always show what a student is capable of.”

As the student read this essay, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s the end of May and if we haven’t already done them, we know that class placements are going to be underway very soon. During these placements, students are often reduced to the level given by their current teacher and it’s something that is passed on to the next. 

While sharing her experiences in Math, this student stated that there are times that she just doesn’t get the concept but having the opportunity to have someone pull up a chair and explain it has made all the difference to her. She’s capable and sometimes just in need of a little support. The mark on her report card doesn’t always reflect her in her entirety.  For her, specific feedback on what and how she can improve is important. From there, she can make those improvements and it also helps future teachers to see how they too might support her in her learning on an ongoing basis. For her, the learning skills portion of the report card is important because those are the skills that we should be focused on building, because the content will change over time and our access to the content will also evolve. 

“Grades are not good for mental health. They often make you feel stressed, which can lead to anxiety.”

This student shared that it’s stressful being a kid. Their bodies are changing and their brains are changing too. Managing physical and psychological changes, while having to pretend everything is ok at school is hard. Citing not wanting to worry people and the added stress of not being successful in school, because of your grades, is just too much. This student wonders if there are any studies that have gone into the impact that the stress of grades has on students. They were pretty interested in learning about the education system in Finland and wondered why more countries haven’t taken a similar approach to have a later start at school, more recess, and a lightened load with homework. 

As I read these essays, I realized just how much of an impact the pandemic has had on my students. While they’re on every day and handing in their assignments on time and with care, it really hasn’t been easy. Many are concerned about whether or not we will go back to in-person learning this year and what their transition to middle school will be like. Without answers, they’re left to wonder and that’s producing a significant amount of stress and anxiety on young people who we keep congratulating for their resilience. 

“Teacher comments, on the other hand, can help parents and students, by telling them how well a student is doing in class.”

It’s interesting how many students spoke about receiving quality feedback and opportunities to implement the feedback. Having feedback on a report card is great but it is also seen as somewhat final. Not until the next one, do they have the opportunity to see a change unless the feedback is ongoing. My students are also looking for honest feedback. Many have said that on report cards they have gotten Cs and when they have read the comments, they sound as though they met with success and yet for them, they know that it is still approaching success. 

This comment also speaks to the relationship between home and school and making sure that parents know how their child is doing along the way. For many, they said that they see the school year as a journey in learning and that to them, marks are somewhat final. They want and need to know how they are doing; how they are improving; and what still needs to be improved upon. 

The debate continues on the idea of going gradeless in Elementary. Even the students are divided in their opinions but it’s clear that the current system isn’t working effectively for all. We’ve heard a lot of talk of “reimagining”. Assessment and evaluation is just one area in education that needs further inspection and action for change. I’m hoping that we can move past the talk and into action.

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Updated: May 31, 2021 — 9:57 pm

The Author

Arianna Lambert

I'm a Grade 5 Teacher in the Toronto District School Board who loves integrating technology and mindfulness in the classroom. Through inquiry and design, I work with students who are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities; developing core competencies, while creating ways to make the world an even better place. I am the recipient of a TDSB Excellence Award for the co-creation of #tdsbEd, Twitter chats for educators. Through conversations on trends in Education from STEAM to Mindfulness, it has become an online community of educators dedicated to improving their practice to ensure greater student success, well-being and achievement.

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