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Ignoring Grades, Growing Intelligence

Ignoring Grades, Growing Intelligence

What does it mean when a student receives an A in math or a C in English?  Because of the way society interprets learning and grades, we assume that a student with an A in a particular class has mastered the content of that particular course. When a student earns a C in a course, we assume that the student performs on an average content. We believe the grade assigned represents the quantity of learning or the level of content mastery; however, this is not always true, and this association can impact students negatively. Encouraging what Carol Dweck, Stanford Professor of Psychology, growth mindset in our students shifts the focus away from grades and toward an appreciation for the process of learning.

How do grades negatively impact students?
Grades are subjective, and this impacts our students negatively because they focus on the grade rather than the amount of learning. Yes, even in an attempt to make grades objective, they can still be subjective. For example, examine the following rubric excerpt for a level4 (the highest score) on the Mississippi 10th grade writing assessment:
4 A Masterful Response:
Presents effective, coherent, and purposeful organization that enhances the central topic or position through multiple paragraphs that are clearly delineated; begins with a compelling introduction; uses precise and purposeful transition of words or phrases within and between paragraphs to create a cohesive, uninterrupted flow of idea; ends with an effective conclusion that adds a sense of completeness to the response while avoiding redundancy and restatement of ideas. 
Notice the terms in bold. These terms are used to describe the quality of the work; however, they are all subjective to some extent. Consider the description of the very compelling to another grader.  My own interpretations of the rubric will affect the score assigned. An essay could score a level 4 from one grader and a level 3 from another. What does that mean? Is the essay a 4 or 3? Can it be both? Does it even matter? The score reflects the  interpretation.
Not only  but also the level of difficulty. Two classes on the exact same subject can be taught with varying levels of rigor. This can result in students with the same amount of learning and the same level of performance to have two different grades. Alternatively, a course can be very easy and taught with a low level of rigor and a student can score a high grade; whereas, the same course taught with a high level of rigor can produce a student with a high level of learning but with a lower grade than his low rigor counterpart. 
Another dilemma results from the way grades are calculated. A student may know the course content well but never submit classwork. Depending on the weight of actual learning or knowledge. 
When students focus on grades, these issues present problems. Students may lack confidence in their abilities, performance, or intelligence. In order to counter this effect, focusing on the amount of learning that takes place rather than the resulting grade allows students to place emphasize on his or her purpose–on what really matters–the amount of learning.
What is a growth mindset and how is it achieved?
For over 25 years, to her creation of  can increase. In d and cannot grow beyond a certain, fixed point.
In aStanford+Connects micro lecture video published by Stanford Alumni YouTube Channel, Dweck iscusses this concept.
Dweck explains the Chicago, rather than awarding that the material has not yet been mastered, but mastery is still attainable. Also, Dweck shares results from some of her studies. When she gave students challenging work, she found that students with a growth mindset welcomed the challenge; whereas, considered cheating the next time, while others searched for someone with a lower score so that their scores were not as bad, and still others will attempt to avoid future challenges in order to prevent failure.
In order to foster a growth mindset in your child, encourage your student to persevere through challenging tasks, focusing on the process rather than the end result.  Avoid praising talent and intelligence. Instead, praise hard work, perseverance, concentration, and a positive attitude.
For more, visit Dweck’s website at


By Beth McKay  

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