Which is more important: grades or learning?


Why do we have grades?

Grades, the one part of school nearly every student hates. I remember when it was time to receive our report cards back in school. I never like it because my grades were slightly above average – mostly due to my laziness in school. Grades are important because they tell us how well we did on an exam or assignment, but is that really all? Can grades also be an accurate measure of how well someone has understood the material?

I am a bit unsure about how I answer that second question. Grades give a real score to use as a measurement for the quality of work done, but it may not accurately reflect a student’s overall comprehension. Some people (like myself) may not have the highest grades but when asked outside of the classroom, can show a good comprehension of the classroom material.

Learning and understanding should be more important than grades

According to a Washington Post article, a few schools are changing the way they grade student work and behavior. Schools in the Washington DC and Alexandria, VA areas are beginning to abandon the traditional grading system (A, B, C, D, F) for elementary students. and starting to assess how well students can apply it to the real world. With this change, a few parents became confused and upset (as would be expected). Change is hard, but in order for schools to accurately assess how well their students learn, they need to assess how well the students apply their knowledge.

If you have seen the movie, “Coach Carter”, there’s a scene where Ken Carter (played by Samuel L. Jackson) speaks in front of the school board about why he justifies the lockout. While the movie focuses on sports vs. education, the heart of the speech he says can also apply to classroom teachers, too.

Here’s the clip:


A quote from the article puts the point of education simply as this:

That’s what education is all about . . . learning and learning how to learn. And for these youngest students, it’s about learning how to love to learn.

I couldn’t have said it any better. While grades are important for assessing the quality of work, teaching students how to think and not what to think should be our main goal as educators.



Filed under Assessment, Boys and Girls, Education, ESL, Grades, News Article, South Korea, Teaching, The United States, Young Learners

10 responses to “Which is more important: grades or learning?

  1. I really like your post K and completely endorse your point and the quote from Coach Carter. As you suggest, its not really an accurate tool – more of a blunt instrument really.
    That said, there is an unavoidable reality to grades; they are a way of prioritising opportunity. Good grades allow students to apply for their preferred next stage along their academic journey. Of course, another way is money. While there are a great many intelligent young minds that are disenfranchised by not being good at tests, there would be an awful lot more if all you needed to do was pay to get in (and I don’t think any of us want to go back to a system of privilege based on wealth).
    I’m with you 100% in teaching students how to learn. Part of that has to be assessment literacy. Students need to learn how to recognise what assessment is asking of them.


    • I agree completely with what you’ve said sterlinghurley. Grades are a necessary evil for teachers and students since they give us a real way to measure learning in the classroom. That being said, I do think it’s possible to have too much of an emphasis on grades and scores over actual learning. Here in South Korea, test scores and grades are everything for students in school, and very little learning takes place. Few students can tell you what they’ve learnt or if they understand it. There has to be a medium that’s reached but it’s hard to find it at times.


  2. Apparently you are teaching ESL in South Korea. I understand very well that grades are very important to students in Asia. I watched the gymnastic in the summer Olympic two or four years ago. The top two were Japan and Korea. The girl from Japan (?) spinned so hard that her nose bled. Suicide is not uncommon among students who didn’t pass the test after high school. It’s heart breaking. I got off the subject. but I like your post. Come back to visit more of mine. I blog at:

    Liked by 1 person

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