Throwing Out Grades Isn’t a New Concept #ttog

Catchy title right?

I could have gone with a list: “5 Reasons to Throw Out Grades” and I would have met a commenter suggesting “5 Reasons to Continue Giving Grades”. Sometimes we must remember that blog posts offer a perspective. One perspective from an infinite set. And here is my perspective…

I’m not sure what this post is. But I will tell you what it isn’t.

This post isn’t a “do it this way” or “I have all the answers” post. Who am I to suggest anything. I only have a just under decade of elementary experience. Is that even considered research?

Maybe this post is a Straw Man.

Maybe I am just in a sarcastic mood today.

As we continue to talk about grades vs. PBL vs. testing vs. student choice etc. etc. I think about every phys. ed class I have seen taught by others and those classes taught by myself. In almost a decade of teaching, I have never seen a phys. ed teacher give out a grade before the final report card, nor have I done so myself. And no one seems to care.

I am not saying it doesn’t happen in other gym classes. Again, intelligent readers & writers will keep an open mind. I bet some high school teachers DO give grades throughout a course. I bet some elementary teachers DO as well. I have never seen it done, however.

We have a physical education curriculum. It contains multiple strands.

Now consider your average gym class. The focus is on skill development. Competency based learning. Ongoing feedback. Collaboration. Team building. Determination. Perseverance. Engagement, etc. No grades.

So, would students learn less in phys. ed if we DID give grades? Yeah yeah, I know – a balanced approach. Everything in moderation.

Maybe this post is a satire. Hopefully it makes one reader think.

I wonder how many phys. ed teachers use badges or gamification in their classes. You know, award a badge for “serving in volleyball” or something similar. Tweet this: “I just received a badge for doing ten push ups”.

Now that we have that covered, let’s talk assessment.

While ability is important, we quite often emphasize effort when assigning a final gym mark. A student who is an average athlete who tries really well deserves a solid B+, right?

Can we do the same in math? Consider this when you see little Johnny struggling, but trying really hard, with a math task.

Physical Education

  • Focus on skill development
  • Rote and repetitive practice
  • Ongoing feedback
  • Sports chunked as units
  • Minimal grades
  • Minimal testing


  • Focus on skill development?
  • Rote and repetitive practice?
  • Ongoing feedback?
  • Strands chunked as units
  • Many grades -> up for debate?
  • Testing -> Up for debate?

Good luck on your phys. ed exams this week!

Full Disclosure: Take this post with a grain of salt. I am not attempting to suggest physical education is any more or less important than math. I was going to comment on Drama and Dance too but I have zero experience in that department. On a serious note, this push for edu-reform does mimic your average gym class, doesn’t it? Who says jocks don’t know anything.

Second Full Disclosure: I am not saying jocks are not smart. I apologize for even using the word “jock”.


Enjoy your last week, folks!



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9 Responses for this post

  1. Jonathan So
    Jonathan So
    | |


    I cannot agree with you more. I don’t think that not giving grades is a new thing however, it is a new concept in many of our classrooms. I am not too sure why in the Arts and PE, we never cared for marks, all we wanted to do was have fun and get better. But I think this is something that we need to work towards in other subject matters. We should want to learn math because we see various applications for using it. Science should be a place of wonder and excitement not because its in the curriculum but because it is cool to learn and do fun experiments.

    In fact learning in general should be more about learning for the sake of learning then for the mark. However, that is not the case. I think that many of us rely on marks because that is just how it was always done. But I think this is the most dangerous statement and thinking to be had. If we always did something the same way we would be stuck in the stone age.

    We need to question why we do things and then keep the components that are meaningful and useful.

    Grades, test, exams have a purpose but they are not the end all to be all, or the majority of our learning/telling of our understanding.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Jason Wigmore
    Jason Wigmore
    | |

    Thanks for posting such a light hearted post on a topic that causes much debate, some times heated.
    The constant need for marks, an end point to learning clouds some ability to see the value in allowing students the time and space to explore and learn through various forms that we are seeing more of now (i.e Problem based learning, Genius Hour, Coding etc.)
    If you can’t give a task a mark out of 10, that does not mean it has no value. We need to move beyond the need to a spreadsheet full of data points to prove student learning.
    Maybe we can learn something from those jocks and artists.

  3. Erin Little
    Erin Little
    | |

    I loved reading this post. I’m not going to get into the whole marks debate; it comes down to intrinsic motivation. Marks are extrinsic. If we want kids to love learning, that’s what we should help them do.

    If I ran the world, our school would follow the Sudbury Valley Model. I don’t know if that would suit everyone, but I suspect if would if everyone started out there and weren’t conditioned by the current system first.

    Check out my post on the Joy of Learning sometime. Or Let’s Stop Pretending (I should have challenged you to respond).

  4. Jon Orr
    Jon Orr
    | |

    Good insights here! I’m definitely a fan of more feedback in the right places instead of marks.
    And totally agree with Jonathan that marks, tests, exams have a purpose but are not the be all end all.
    I’d like to offer the hybrid!!!! We still have to assign a mark at the end.
    I like the mark as a record of mastery…. “Hey kid you did it, you are aces on that skill” I feel the need to tell them that they’ve hit our success criteria dead on. The level 4 is really for me…. To remember come mark time what they have achieved on that skill.
    I have about 40 skills in grade 9 and don’t really want to remember each kids 40 skills. 
    Every skill a kid gets lower than a level 4…. We give them feedback only. While I record a level for their achievement in my notes. They just see the feedback and know they haven’t mastered yet. 
    This is the power of no marks! All skills are in flux until the end of the course.  
    To the kid it appears they don’t get marks until they mastered…. To me I have a record of 40 specific skills for each kid. 
    By the way, I would love to toss away exams!!!

    1. Jonathan so
      Jonathan so
      | |

      John I do something very similar in grade 2 but something keeps nagging me. In my MEd I was told by a prof. If I didn’t get an A then he was doing something wrong. That got me really thinking we’ll then what’s the point of the mark, shouldn’t we all get A’s and go home?

      I mean I get what you say about reaching a target but can’t that be defined as hey you got it? Also in Ontario doesn’t an A mean you achieved more then the standard? But isn’t there always more that we can be learning? Just food for thought.

      I am also with you on no exams.


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