Cameroon 2009

Cameroon 2009

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Marks don't matter

What follows is the "message from the principal" in our upcoming newsletter.  We need to work hard at trying to help our students and parents (and staff, if you're not "there" yet) to stop thinking of marks as a meaningful definition of student learning.

Here at Ashern Central, we've come a long way as staff in understanding that percentage grades are a silly construct.  We only report that way because of the provincial report cards, and then only four times a year.  Aside from that, we do use a 4 point scale for measuring student progress in learning outcomes; even there, though, we try to frame the discussion around the learning, and not the numbers attached to the summative assessments.

Marks don’t matter.

A strange sentiment to accompany the year’s first report cards, for sure.  Really though, marks don’t matter, not much anyway.  Learning matters, a lot, but marks are a terribly blunt instrument for measuring that learning.

So much of what students learn in a day, a week or a semester goes unmeasured by marks.  The most important things: personal responsibility; caring (for themselves and for others); determination and “grit”; self-confidence; leadership; and many others.  If you’re a student, aren’t these the things that you want for yourself?  If you’re a parent, isn’t this what you want for your child?  These are the things that matter, the things that last, that stay with us for a lifetime.

Yes, we have a responsibility to teach the academics, and yes, they matter too.  Perhaps not as much as we used to think they did, and certainly not if it’s just the learning of facts, in a world that offers us all the facts known to humankind in just a few key clicks.  Even then, though, a single percentage grade to represent that learning?  Really?

As a teacher, I watched students chase marks, and even the very best of them often didn’t care about what they learned.  “What do I have to do to get a 90?”  Not what can I learn, how can I grow, what will make me a better, more complete, more effective and happy human being.  We want our children to become life-long learners, but if grades motivate them now, where will the motivation come from when they aren’t receiving marks?

Our students need and deserve useful, descriptive feedback about their learning.  We know from research that verbal feedback is most effective, and that the relationship between teacher and student is key  to fostering student learning.  This is what we are working on, this is what matters.  Students and parents, when you speak with one another about how school is going, let’s focus on the learning, not on the marks. 

Marks don’t matter—people do.


  1. "Marks don’t matter—people do." Brilliant! Kevin

    1. Thanks Kevin. I don't think that I always knew this well enough, but I do now.

  2. Neil, spending time giving feedback on assignments with students, I find that's the best use of time to not only connect with your students, but offer them a view of what they have accomplished and what they could yet achieve with more effort. And sometimes they are already at a 4 out of 4 which is a great moment indeed! Good blog topic.