Grades, Feedback, and Assessments

Kristen KoppersBlog, Grade Better, Personalize Student Learning Better, Reflect Better


  • The focus in school is frequently on the grades received rather than the skills obtained.
  • Feedback and the improvement of skills should be valued more.
  • We all need to work together to create this change.

In 2015, I attended the “What Great Educators Do Differently” conference with my colleague in education and best friend. I attended a session by a Fall Creek Superintendent, Joe Sanfelippo. During his presentation, he said five simple words that would get any teacher to think. “What is the difference between…” and then he added, “an 82 and 86?” The logical answer would be 4%, but that is not the point. Since I am an English teacher and not a math major,  I took an analytical approach to this question. What IS the difference between an 82 and 86? If you really think about it, there really is no difference as the grade is still a “B.” But to students, there is a difference when presented with a grading scale.

Which is valued: grades or feedback?

Ever since then, I have thought about it while I was teaching. Instead of focusing on a grade, I felt that it is more important to give my students feedback on their work than give a subjective letter or number grade. But I wanted to know this for myself. On the latest subjective writing assignment, I followed the rubric by only circling the appropriate categories. I gave the student an overall grade and returned it. For the next writing assignment, I did not write a grade on it. Instead, I provided feedback on the assignment and returned it back to the same student.

Instead of focusing on grades and assessments, let's focus on skills and content. Click To Tweet

In the first assessment that was returned to the student with a grade, there were no questions asked. In the second assessment, I did not give a grade but rather feedback for improvement. After returning the essay, the student asked me what she received as a grade. I got to thinking about what the student was asking. It was not about the feedback anymore; it was about the overall grade.

We have created an environment where grades are the most important aspect in education. This is obvious with having high honor roll, summa cum laude, valedictorian, salutatorian, and more. I think the injustice to the students is taking away from the skills they need. My eleven-year-old excels in math (and I must admit that I consistently question his grade). I do not deny the fact that seeing A’s on his tests and end-of-quarter reports is exciting. But it occurred to me that he could not explain certain strategies. This concerned me more than getting the right answer. The skills that we teach in schools are ones that help us be successful in different circumstances.

The Struggle with Grades

I have been struggling with grades and assessments for quite a few years. The struggle may not seem hard to figure out for some; however, there is a difference when I know when a student understands and knows the content versus a student who does not. I struggle with assessments and grading because a letter grade is not a viable way to show what the student truly knows.

Let’s look at it this way…throughout elementary school to eighth grade, students can pass to the next level even failing a course. It is not until high school that a student cannot continue to the next grade level for not earning the minimum percentage of 60%.  But then again a student who earns a 60% or higher is not a good indication that the student knows the skills or objectives either. This is my struggle. Am I just following a district (one size fits all) curriculum? Or, as an educator, am I making sure the students are learning the skills from one year to the next.

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One of my students understands the material completed in class. He knows how to explain his reasoning and support. And he can effectively explain what he is thinking. Because he proves he knows the skills, his grade should be high in the class. This is not the case. The struggle (because it’s not a problem) is that his writing cannot successfully demonstrate his abilities as he can verbally in class.

As an English teacher, writing is still an important skill that he, and all students, need. Yet, that should not keep his “grade” from decreasing as he proves he knows the material. Often, it is easy to criticize or offer suggestions that we may not do ourselves. But we are all in this together whether you are an administrator, teacher, parent, guardian, or grandparent.

Instead of focusing on grades and assessments, let’s focus on skills and content. The grades and assessments will follow even if it takes time. Assessments are not the only reason for a grade. Students should be able to learn from their own mistakes. It’s time to focus on content learned.

About Kristen Koppers

Kristen is an educator, Edumatch author, blogger, and presenter. She teaches ELA in secondary education as well as an adjunct professor at a local junior college. Kristen has been teaching for twenty years and has a Master of Arts in English (M.A.) and a Master of Education in Administration (MA. Ed.). She certified as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2009 and completed her recertification in 2019.

Kristen is the author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession (2019) #DITeaching and The Perfect Puppy (2020) #ThePerfectPuppyEdu. Find out more information about Kristen at: