Are Gradeless Classrooms Making the Grade?


As a new school year gets underway, some families may be encountering gradeless classrooms for the first time. Depending on the age of your kids, you may or may not have heard about the concept of going gradeless in the classroom. Yep, no more letter grades or point values being entered into a gridded gradebook.

Whether you have or haven’t heard about gradeless classrooms, it’s a topic that is typically accompanied by a lot of questions. As a former teacher, I’m hoping to answer a few.

First and foremost, I think many people believe that gradeless classrooms are where teachers are simply trying to shirk one of their major responsibilities, assessing students’ work. In actuality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

After nearly 20 years as a middle school language arts teacher, I can attest to the fact that there is A LOT of assessment that happens on a daily basis in the field of education. Teachers in gradeless classrooms aren’t doing away with reviewing and assessing student work, they are merely doing away with an often-subjective grading system that does little to truly inform on learning.

With gradeless classrooms, it’s no longer possible to simply slap a 15/20 on a paper and call it a day. Those 5 missing points could be the result of any number of reasons, and unless proper feedback was given, students (and parents) are often left wondering, Where did I miss the mark this time?

  • Was ¼ of the assignment not completed?
  • Were 75% of the responses incorrect?
  • Was the assignment completed in the wrong color ink? (Terrible, but it happens.)
  • Is my paper being compared to Kevin’s paper that included non-required pictures?
  • Does my teacher just not like me?

These oftentimes subjective points can leave recipients guessing, and over time, students may simply give up trying to figure out how to make the grade.

BUT what if there were no grades at the top of that paper…

When that number or letter or checkmark gets replaced with actual feedback, the light shines on the learning and not simply answering the question, What did I get? Instead of completing an assignment to turn it in, earn points, toss aside, and move on to the next point conquest, kids begin to do work to understand a concept, build upon it, and apply what has been learned to future endeavors. A connectedness begins to emerge that simply isn’t present when efforts are all about a score.

Classrooms and education are changing with the times, and it’s necessary for the reporting system that teachers use to change along with them. Gradeless classrooms are richer in project-based learning and student-led inquiry that allow students to form connections and see a bigger picture, as opposed to the narrow lens of a single worksheet that can make or break their drive to learn based on how many subjective points they receive.

Students (and parents) in gradeless classrooms aren’t left in the lurch wondering where they stand when it comes to learning. In these learning environments, students are able to:

  • Have conversations about their learning and levels of understanding.
  • Move beyond a set level of expectations because there is no grade ceiling to stop them.
  • Feel ownership of the learning process because they are the ones driving it.
  • Build a stronger work ethic due to the absence of extra credit points and inflated averages from points earned for behavior and/or knowing how to “do school” and make the grade.

Through the use of portfolios and online management systems, students, teachers, and parents are able to easily see and have conversations about learning as opposed to trying to track down missing points. It is much easier to identify misunderstandings and struggles to help students positively move forward, and isn’t that why kids are going to school in the first place?

Trust me, I’m no expert, but I do know that really good things come from gradeless classrooms. I also know it’s a concept that looks a lot different than the classrooms where we learned, so it’s going to take some time to get used to the idea. In the end, our kids are reaping learning rewards rather than simply accruing points. Both the mom and teacher in me like the sound of that!


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Lani is relatively new to Cincinnati, and after living in Columbus for nearly three decades, she’s glad to be back in the Buckeye State! Keeping all wheels turning with her family of five serves as her full-time job, but she stays active with her teaching background by blogging and freelance writing for several education companies. When she’s not stealing some time at the keyboard, she enjoys exploring all Cincinnati has to offer through the eyes of her five-year-old. Cooking, traveling, and binge-watching a good drama series round out her favorites, but some of those happen much more often than others!


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