Grades at school, pros and cons

Grades, judgments, and then at the end of the year, report cards. What are the most suitable forms of assessment to measure students’ degree of learning of a specific topic?

The exams never end, but the rewards we most feared in life are certainly the   end-of-year report cards . A hotter topic than usual this year, considering the many challenges that pupils, teachers, parents and the whole school system have been called to face with distance learning due to the health emergency that has hit the entire country. Alongside this, there are the novelties at school level that see, subject to changes, the abolition of the numerical grade in elementary school starting from next year.


This is not new for the Italian school which over the years has seen the succession of different evaluation methods : from qualitative judgment, to numbers, letters, judgments as excellent , distinct , etc.


The question reopens another great debate in the political scene, but also didactic, pedagogical and educational… vote yes or vote no ?


Grades at school: what are the advantages?

The expression of a grade on a scale from 1 to 10 has a value for the school system that is often misinterpreted, namely that of indicating the level of learning of a pupil on a given topic or in general a discipline. Therefore, the value and skill of the pupil himself is more general.


However, the intent could be more noble and profound if used wisely: through a numerical value, make explicit the level of learning objectives achieved and especially the areas that need strengthening and improvement.


The vote therefore has its value if used in a functional way to express to the pupil first, and then to the parent, how much mastery there is with respect to a discipline in order to be able to plan a recovery of gaps or on the contrary enhance the talents and points of come on . All with a view to growth and learning .


They could not necessarily be attributed through tests, checks and questions that trigger competition and concern, but rather through laboratory activities , comparisons, group work: however, alternative ways that put the student under stress but transmit the pleasure of learning and its value to wide range .


Furthermore, if used well, the numerical value is a parameter could help the teacher to understand if his own teaching method and the strategies used are functional with the specific class group, to understand how many children he can reach and who instead struggles to approach the subject with that method, trying, in an inclusive perspective , to reach all pupils by adapting teaching.


Votes: the many cons that make you think

The grade used as in the usual school normality, however , often deviates from the positive value it can assume, becoming, on the contrary, a strongly negative element.


In the first place, precisely because of the wider value system in which success and failure take on a preponderant value , the vote becomes an attribution of skills and judgment to the person. In reality, the evaluation should stop on the competence and skills learned, however it is often experienced and expressed as a value attributed to the individual.


This is true for teachers and the school system who, although not consciously often, are led to distinguish between students with higher grades , seen as the most capable and good, and those with lower grades , often considered unwilling and with little commitment.


This also happens in the family where the numerical value is considered an element of reward or punishment , of commitment or non-commitment. In society, moreover, sometimes things seem to be reversed with the less good appearing as those most integrated into the peer group, while the “nerds” are the most marginalized.


This value judgment, however, has repercussions on the self-image of the child who will feel himself worth two, three, or on the contrary nine and ten, based on the value taken. In both cases there can be unpleasant repercussions such as low self-esteem in the first case and perhaps further reduction of fatigue, considered useless, and high expectations perceived with performance anxiety and fear of disappointing, in the second.


Another crucial element is the competitiveness between pupils : the vote inevitably determines a hierarchy that can create discomfort, performance anxiety, but also mockery, derision and shame .


In short, it somehow also creates groups and social dynamics, as well as inevitably preferences among teachers as well. In the vote the child or young person does not see their areas for improvement and strengths , but only a value that they attribute to the self in its entirety, it is a difficult label to detach, a weight for better or for worse to bear and a difficulty in demonstrate your nature to the whole world. Yes, because a 10 in all subjects is not synonymous with well-being, happiness, satisfaction and above all success at work and in life.


At the same time, a series of academic failures  could hide talent and genius in other fields , which if they have the opportunity to express themselves can lead to great things.


Votes for and against: a different point of view

Perhaps the discussion is much broader than the advantages and disadvantages of using votes and should involve the ways in which they are expressed, received and considered. It is the way they are experienced that makes them a positive or negative element and not the numerical value itself.


The children must be explained that the vote is given to the task performed , to how many things he managed to express and how and does not say anything about his person. It is simply a way like any other to say if the subject studied has been learned, if he has understood the rule of Italian or mathematics, or on the contrary, a review or new explanation is needed.


For this reason , parents and teachers have a very important role : the first in not betting everything on the grade taken with the classic questions “ how did the verification go? “Or” what grades did you get today? “But with others like” what did you learn today? “” Did you like the new topic? Do you have everything clear? “. Trying to convey to the child and youngster that commitment is important not to achieve success that others coveted, but to be able to achieve one’s goals and satisfaction; that voting is a tool and should be used as such and that learning must go beyond the result.


Gratifying, especially the little ones is important because it stimulates them to try again, to continue and consolidate what they have done and learned, however it is good to do it for every step, however small it may be, so even when a low grade should be given, to point out the positive things and say that others can be improved, proposing them as a new challenge.


However, in a society based on the value of success and failure, in which the main means to motivate doing and achieving something are monetary, remunerative and in any case of benefit, therefore a motivation of extrinsic value , the votes still represent, unfortunately, one of the most effective means to involve students in studying, applying, doing homework, what is needed is a change of course, not only in the use of grades, but in the system and methods of transmitting learning: the school is not like a place where a performance is required that will have a judgment, but as a place of growth and development where talents and abilities can resurface and express themselves.


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