Why do bad grades generally mean failure

Education 4.0: Why you should rethink the concept of the school grade

The school grade lacks meaningfulness

Grades are an attempt to objectify student performance and make it measurable. This is problematic because this process takes place in an undifferentiated manner and without context. Grades can only reflect the performance of a student at a specific point in time. If a child is totally screwed up on a math assignment, but the material is explained to him again afterwards and the child has then learned and mastered it, the bad censorship still remains - it can only be put into perspective by the next graded question. As a result, grades are snapshots that only partially reflect actual performance and do not honor an important component in the learning process: the individual development of a student. A further complicating factor is that a child who receives a “sufficient” twice in a row, i.e. grade 4, is told that they have not learned anything. This is not just total nonsense, but really fatal. Because if students get the impression that they are not learning anything, if they repeatedly get supposedly bad grades, then the innate urge to want to learn is nipped in the bud. This is one of the most important skills, always - and especially now, in the digital age.

And what does a grade actually say? Does poor German censorship mean, for example, that a child generally cannot speak German, or is it the case that they may not be able to learn parts of the intended subject matter, but others quite well? Maybe you can write totally creative texts, but the grammar or spelling is lacking? Of course, there has to be a certain level of education, without exception, that every child should achieve. In order not to produce educational losers, school grades must be able to determine the achievement exactly and unambiguously, because they serve as a central guide for certain types of school and qualification, and as a selection criterion for the economy (supposedly) decide on future opportunities. But even there, doubts have long been spreading: due to the lack of informative value of grades about the actual qualification of an applicant, grades play no or only a subordinate role in the recruiting process for more and more companies such as Deutsche Bahn, Google or Microsoft. We have to ask ourselves once more what exactly we need grades for.

How we deal with school grades is a central problem

In addition to the lack of informative value of school grades themselves, dealing with them is also extremely problematic: Bad grades are destructive feedback for students, as no constructive consequences are drawn from them in school. Because there is seldom a specific recommendation for action that is drawn from the performance review. Questions such as “What exactly can the child not - what has to be learned and practiced now and how?” Remain unanswered because our teachers lack the resources to create space for institutionally guided, individual support. Schoolchildren and parents are left completely alone by the education system - and tutoring is booming because parents don't know how to help each other. Because the mindset that a bad grade leads to poor future prospects persists. This inevitably leads to perplexity, pressure and stress, rarely to constructive improvements. We can't want that.

The fear of bad grades and the stress that comes with it can have serious consequences | © Pedro Figueras / pexels.com So we shouldn't underestimate the psychological effect of school grades: Most children are simply afraid of bad grades. Because we reflexively wave the future club, but our children don't really know how to improve their grade. The resulting stress blocks resources and thus cognitive performance. A vicious circle. As a further consequence, children lose their open attitude towards learning. Learning is not equated with learning something - as is the case with cycling or swimming - but with a final assessment and evaluation. However, if learning is negatively proven in school and equated with the fear of “failure” (= bad censorship), this has long-term effects. In many cases it leads to the conclusion: Learning is stupid. And thus prevents the positive attitude towards "lifelong learning" that is often demanded today.

Understanding grades as a process companion, less as a goal

And yet: grades are not a bad construct per se. With schools without clear performance reviews, we would be in an ivory tower in the middle of a performance society. So that grades can do what we expect of them in this context - namely to provide meaningful qualification criteria - we have to make radical changes. Teachers must be given the time to look after students individually and show them what consequences they should draw from a grade and how they can improve their performance. Only in this way does learning become a process, the individual process steps of which are not put aside with a singular evaluation. Students should not be left alone with their grades. Grades must honor an ongoing development process in order to encourage positive learning. We should see it as an indicator rather than a goal. Then grades provide orientation for students, teachers, parents and other institutions. And can also be a motivational element.

The concept of school grades is not promising as it is today

For me it is clear: The general concept of school grades, their meaning and in particular the statements and actions that are derived from them must be fundamentally reconsidered. Teachers need more time to deal with their students individually and show them how to handle a grade and what exactly they can do to develop further. We should respond to the individual abilities of children and develop them in a targeted manner.

The school grade cannot offer that in its current form, because it is not gradual, not sensitive enough and, above all, far too far removed from the child to be able to criticize constructively and promote real development. That's just not what the grade was created for. But if we want children not to lose interest in school and to develop openly, then we have to change the current concept of the school grade.

About the author

Daniel Bialecki has been working in the field of digital knowledge transfer for 20 years and has since been concerned with what really good education can look like in the digital age. For over 10 years, the father of three has been concentrating specifically on the successful learning processes of children in interaction with their parents and teachers. Together with educators and renowned story developers, he helped to set up scoyo's virtual learning environment from 2007 to 2009. He has been scoyo's managing director since 2014.