Grading as Social Control

Author: cpaterso

Posted by Alythea

Pat Carini (2001) wrote about taking “humanness, and the valuing of humanness, as starting place and center for education” and resisting “the oversystematization and depersonalization of school.” She also wrote about how in schools, “children are mostly looked at through the assessment frame: as a good, bad, or indifferent reader; as at grade level or above or below it; as normal or disabled as a learner.” She continued, “The priority is not the child, but objectives reached and scores achieved.”

Alfie Kohn (1999) presents convincing research that suggests that grades tend to reduce students’ interest in learning, reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks, reduce the quality of students’ thinking, encourage cheating, and spoil teachers’ relationships with students and students’ relationships with each other. He also states that when grades are combined with a class rank it can send the message that the point is not to learn, but to defeat others. “Some students might be motivated to improve their class rank, but that is completely different from being motivated to understand ideas” (Kohn, 1999).

Marshall (1968) also provides a powerful case that grading restricts good teaching when he asserts,

Teaching is a process which takes place between teachers and students, in which one is supposed to help the other to advance in understanding, moving from basic factual knowledge to such wisdom as may be within reach. This process has to have the foremost position at all times. One of the greater evils due to grading is that the practice turns teachers into appraisers, analysts, and inspectors, rather than the guides and counsellors they should be and perhaps prefer to be.

One step we can take to challenge the grading obsession in schools is to begin conversations encouraging people to think and talk about the effects of grading on the quality of students’ learning. Another is to actively explore alternative methods of assessing student learning such as student conferences, looking at student work protocols, and e-portfolios. As Kohn (1999) states, “Abolishing grades opens up possibilities that are far more meaningful and constructive.”

If I can help my students to forget about grades, my classroom might become more learning-focused. Grading is an artificial way to represent learning. It is only ingrained in us or hard-wired if we allow it to be. If education is a process of meaning-making, then we need to become more aware of the way that we construct meaning and of the agendas that drive us. We should not permit ourselves to be socialized to accept a simplistic number as learning. Children, students and learners need to be the priority, not grades.



Carini, P.F. (2001). Starting strong: A different look at children, schools, and standards. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kohn, A. (1999, March). From de-grading to degrading. High School Magazine. Retrieved from,

Marshall, M. S. (1968). Teaching Without Grades. Oregon State University Press.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Need an account? Register now!