The Grazing Ram: Why We Should Get Rid of Gradeless Classrooms


[Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of “The Grazing Ram,” a new opinion column by New Canaan High School sophomore Leo Mikkola-Patel.]

Breakdown of the Gradeless Classroom Grading System 

Leo Mikkola-Patel

The gradeless classroom grading system is used in some English classrooms at New Canaan High School. This has been in place for a number of years.  Throughout the marking period, students complete assignments which are put into the gradebook. These assignments typically are marked as ‘complete’ and have feedback on them, but point values are not attached. During the marking period, teachers assess students on their performance, keeping note on specific categories such as work ethic, timeliness and quality of work. At the end of the marking period, students reflect on their performance throughout the quarter. They write a reflection on how they thought they did and give themselves a grade. After all of that, teachers read the students’ reflections and give a single grade. Students and teachers who advocate for gradeless classrooms say it puts a focus on learning as opposed to grades and promotes specific feedback from teachers. Yet depending on their section and course, some students feel it is easier to get a high grade with less effort than what would be required in a traditional class setting. 

A Student’s Perspective on the Gradeless Classroom

Speaking from the perspective of a NCHS student, the gradeless classroom makes learning more difficult. Having constantly updating grades is a great way for students to gauge their performance. For example, if you notice that your homework or classwork grades are starting to worsen, it is a wakeup call that something needs to change such as putting in more effort or correcting a specific weakness. While students do get feedback from the teacher, it is not cold hard number or other quantifiable measure, it is more of things to improve. In a traditional system, students know exactly what they are doing right and wrong. For example if they receive an 80 on an assignment they know they need to put in more effort. They will be able to correct this. Imagine having a gradeless system in a math class. Your tests and quizzes would have no weight on your grade. Therefore, you would never know if you truly learned the skill that the teacher was teaching because your knowledge would not have been properly tested. 

The number attached to every assignment and to every class grade also has meaning. For example, students have goals, or expectations, on what they want to receive. Only getting one grade per quarter is not conducive to success. All of this boils down to one simple idea: Students have no true metric on their performance until the very end where they will have little control in improving performance and skills. 

I believe that some students are also less motivated to put in effort into assignments. It is known that if an assignment does not affect their grade, many students will put minimal effort into it. This is a downfall of the gradeless classroom system. I have noticed that most people put minimal effort into assignments as they will have little to no impact on their grade in the class. This not only promotes a bad attitude toward classwork, it also does not help students learn anything. If students don’t put effort and care into their assignments, they will not properly learn the concept being taught. This not only makes them less attentive in class, as they will not have to apply their knowledge to their assignment, but they also learn the material worse than a student in a traditional learning environment. Some students like a gradeless classroom but it is mainly because they think it is easier and not because it is beneficial to learning.

A Professional’s Perspective on the Gradeless Classroom

A study by Eric Sanders from Minnesota State University bases its conclusions on countless hours of observation and data. In his study, Sanders addressed my point of students not putting in their best effort if the assignment is not going to impact their grade. He said, “Students are faced with a choice in this game of school where they may choose to do less work because it will not affect their grade.” This provides evidence to reinforce the claims that I made above . When students know they will not be receiving direct credit for an assignment, they will not only put minimal effort into it, but may also copy from a classmate as their effort put into the assignment would not amount to anything. 

Sanders also said, “Grading is an extrinsic reward for learning or completing a task.” In a traditional learning system, students are rewarded when they put in effort into an assignment and are punished when they do not. This reward system takes place in their grade. In a gradeless classroom they are neither rewarded nor punished as their assignments have little to no impact on their final grade. 

A Subjective Grading System

In a traditional system every assignment has a point or other value. At the end of the quarter some assignments are worth more and some are worth less, but mathematically the final quarter grade makes sense. There is no math backing up the grade that students receive as they only receive one grade. This leaves large amounts of room for subjectivity. If a student is unfairly disliked by the teacher, that teacher has the power to reduce their grade. English courses already seem highly subjective to many students. But in a traditional class setting, some assignments weigh more than others and then those can accurately determine the grade you deserve.

What Should be Done?

The answer is simple: get rid of gradeless classrooms. They inhibit learning, something they were put in place to improve. There is also lots of subjectivity which is never beneficial in any classroom environment. If gradeless classrooms are removed, students will learn better and more objective grades which will lead students getting more out of school. 

2 thoughts on “The Grazing Ram: Why We Should Get Rid of Gradeless Classrooms

  1. Excellent article, Leo. Thank you for raising awareness of this issue, of which I was unaware. Grades are an essential, if not always pleasant, element of academics. Are scoreless varsity games next?
    Well done, Leo.
    – Stephanie Stiles

  2. I completely agree. This we-are-all-winners approach does not build leaders and entrepreneurs as it eliminates the motivation which is necessary for success.

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