School Grades Are The Wrong Way Around

I often hear people say that school is just a badly designed game. I have to agree. I also hear a lot that part of the problems is people chasing grades rather than mastery and that grades should be dropped. I have to partially disagree.

I totally agree that school should be about master, not grade chasing, but I don’t agree we should get rid of grades, just redesign them. For me, grades are the wrong way around. The assumption is that we start at an A* and we either maintain that or the grade can fluctuate wildly assignment to assignment. If we were to follow a more game-like approach, we would consider progress and experience points rather than ever changing grades.

Each challenge that is set for the students would be assigned a maximum number of experience points that can be earned. These points would accumulate over the term, creating the equivalent of a final grade at the end of the year. For example:

1000 or MoreA*
200 or LessF

There are a number of reasons that I would suggest this. The first is that it makes it easier for students to track their progress over time. They know how much each assignment is worth and how many points they need to get to achieve certain grades (assuming you have to convert back to them). This means they can more easily set themselves goals. To make this easier still, at the start of the year you give them a level map or progress chart that shows when each

To make this easier still, at the start of the year you give them a level map or progress chart that shows when each assignment

will be set and how many points they are worth. This way they can tick them off as they go. They are then able to tell where they are and where they are going. To add to the fun (learning should be fun after all), you can add side quests to earn bonus points or special unlocks (like earn a week off homework if you unlock the secrets etc).

Map 500x356 School Grades Are The Wrong Way Around
The Epic User Journey


I am not talking about creating a whole fantasy world, just a different approach to mapping out how you grade the work of students. You don’t even need to change the need for a final A,B,C grade, if you create a conversion matrix. Obviously creating full fantasy experience would be cool and, as it is beginning to appear, beneficial.

The key is to give them a sense that they are working towards something and are always able to see where they are and where they are going. Transparency also is important. Grades are not very transparent, but seeing you got 80 out of 100 possible points for an assignment is much easier to understand. Knowing that you need 1000 to get an A for the term adds another level of clarity.

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5 thoughts on “School Grades Are The Wrong Way Around”

  1. This makes a lot of sense and would be a lot more engaging for most kids. You could go further and create skill trees that emphasise different attributes you want kids to value – not just academic stuff – attitude, kindness to others, healthy eating etc.

  2. XP points in games are both about achievement (one off outstanding things) and grinding (doing the same thing over and over). While both should be rewarded in school, if grades are to represent learning, then they should focus on achievement (which could include a “good grinder” achievement).

    There are educational systems where students can see the marks allocated for each upcoming assessment in advance, and even some where they get to see (at least broad) rubrics as well. It’s standard for 17-18 year old secondary education and virtually all technical education in Australia, for example.

    There should be more of it.

  3. Exactly my thoughts. I work with disadvantaged students (slight learning disabilities, behaviour problems, minorities…) and we have been able to give them a chance to be protagonists of their learning and do things they have never even considered. Honestly, there’s people you can’t reach but, overall, it really works!

  4. You’ve pretty much nailed the way I evaluate my students 😉 Actually, in the app we just developed, that’s exactly our take: create an understandable system, let them know how it exactly works (what is the goal(s), what they need to get their “points”, how much they get in every different activity, f.e. I give them a number of points for their daily work and their attitude in class, I also create missions or challenges with their own bonuses…) and give them regular feedback. As a teacher, I think that students need to be able to make their own informed choices and that also contributes to developing a sense of responsibility (and not thinking the whole world is a conspiracy agains them so they are not responsible for anything).


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