It’s not about the Grades!


You may think this is an odd or even irresponsible thing for a tutor to write (or think) – but it is true!

I have tried to encourage my students to forget about the grades and, instead, aim to do their best work and to gain the most knowledge from their studies.

#1  The knowledge is what counts.

The whole enterprise of education is to help disseminate and gain knowledge – the ability to reason, think, and draw conclusions.

What does a “C” a “90%” or a “Level 3′ mean in all this?

Not much!

In fact, students receive grades for all sorts of reasons – not always connected to the acquisition of knowledge.

I have seen a high school student (more than one actually) score in the 90% range for mathematics; yet, she could not tell me what 3 x 3 is without a calculator.  (Also, if she made a mistake on the calculator doing this same operation, she would not recognize the error.)

So what, exactly, does the 90% mean?

Here is another true example.  A student received a B+ (77%, Level 3+) in his English class; however, he was unable to write a full sentence by himself.  In fact, he was unable to dictate a sentence very well and a paragraph was beyond him even with the dictation – scribe method.

So what did the mark / grade measure?

Simply said, it wasn’t very useful.

The student, himself, did progress. The gains he made should be recognized, and he should be commended for his own personal growth.  Providing a “grade,” however, was not an essential part of his knowledge acquisition or growth.

#2    The grades will follow.

If the focus is on using solid study strategies and gaining new knowledge, then the grades will come anyway!

Even if grades remain an essential part of educational assessment, focusing on them does not help.

Look to the content of what you are learning and spend your energy on getting to know the material.

There are those who want to give up on grades all together, and I understand why.

I am, however, still pleased to see some marking scheme in certain areas.

For myself, I like to see that I have conquered 80% or 90% of a given set of math questions, for example.

This does not mean that if I get 50% I give up!  It just helps me to know where I need to focus my energy. In other words, I obviously didn’t comprehend that unit fully.

So, maybe we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater but a new perspective could help.

#3     Students get it!

Over nineteen years, I have seen lots of students – many with learning challenges of one kind or another.

Each one has known that his/her “A” may or may not be connected to the material he or she has learned.  Students know when they have truly done well and when they haven’t.  The are happy to get the grade, but time and time again, students have admitted that they don’t know how they got an “A” in a class they barely understood.  They know when their mark is based on an IEP or some other standard (although it isn’t always clear what that standard might be).

They have all appreciated that in private or small group tutoring classes they can be more honest about grades and actual knowledge.  Not only are they happy to be more honest with themselves; but, often, they begin to excel with new vigor, recognizing that beginning at their “START” point, they don’t have to think or worry about “the score” at every juncture.

Why keep up the charade?

It is time to rethink!

Finally – what does the picture on this blog have to do with anything?  Well, you tell me – put your thinking cap on!


It doesn’t matter how slowly you go….


“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   Confucius

What a wonderful quotation!

So many of my students get frustrated because the school requires them to reach certain levels at particular ages/grades – and, yet, they are not ready!

The goal of education is to learn – to improve – to enjoy – and to gain an understanding that we didn’t have before (or to remind us or build an additional tentacle to our network of knowledge).

If you are in grade 7 but have a limited (or non-existent) understanding of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and/or division – are you ready for algebra and complex fraction operations?


And there is no shame in that.

Start where you are.  Take one step forward.  And then another.  And another.  And so on until the foundation is secure. Before you know it, you will be ready to learn those fractions!  (Or write an essay, book report, chemistry formula, etc.)

If you stop, however, then those fractions will forever be a mystery to you.

So, keep moving forward.  Keep challenging yourself, and you will be surprised at what you gain!