Making grades accessible to students improves performance

Illustration of marked-up papers labeled "Final" and "Quiz #4"
Corryn Pettingil / The Mossy Log

Amid the scramble at the end of the semester, students clamor to get assignments done, papers written and tests studied in order to end the year right. While students spend so much time turning in their work, professors sometimes submit them back with edits, but no final grades. Is this beneficial or detrimental to the ways that students work? 

After arriving at Lewis & Clark, I was startled by the lack of communication about grades. When I took a year at Portland Community College, seeing my grades as the term went on felt like a breath of fresh air. I realized at that point that without a percentage or letter grade being presented to me, I was going to treat courses like pass or fail classes. The quality of my writing decreased throughout the year at LC since my subconscious felt like it did not matter, and I had no external drive to do better on tests. 

It was only when I discussed this issue with peers that I realized not seeing grades has its benefits for other students. I understand the immense pressure a letter grade can have on a person’s stress levels, but what about the immense stress of a grade you cannot even see?

I consulted a number of students at other universities to see if other schools were practicing this method, and whether students liked it or not.

A student at University of Portland, Lidia Tellez ’25, said that as a biology student, it is super helpful to see her grades. 

“If I don’t agree with it, I can go to (my professors’) office hours and discuss the grade I got,” Tellez said. “It helps me understand how well I am doing in the class or how I can improve.”

This raises an interesting question: Does a grade assess how well we are doing in the class as helpfully as written feedback from the professors? Feedback and grades are two separate things. Feedback helps you realize what you got wrong and how you can improve, whereas grades simply speak to proficiency. While additional feedback from teachers should not be replaced, a percentage grade also lets you know the damage it has on your GPA. 

If an essay does not come with a grade, I will think that rewriting it is optional. On the other hand, if I see that I failed it, I will be more inclined to re-work and re-submit the piece. Seeing our grades also helps us to talk with our professors. Sometimes they get things wrong, and if we cannot see what numbers they are plugging in, we can not negotiate extra credit or ask for explanations. 

While number grades are not a substitute for written feedback, they also give students a kick in the butt to push ourselves to improve. It is motivating to see, although most of the time, I prefer to ignore my GPA until internships ask for my grades. However, student-athletes do not have that luxury. 

“I like seeing my grades. I would go insane if I could not see them,” a student-athlete at Brown University, Elise Kreutzer ’23, said. “Many student-athletes have to maintain good grades in order to continue playing for their sport, so staying on top of their performance, in and out of their sport, can be very important.” 

There is a benefit to withholding grades from students to improve their mental wellbeing, but for other students who rely on that extra push to do well in their classes, it is not so great. A person might ask their professor for their grade, but after a while, I am sure professors’ inboxes are filled with students asking for grades after every test or essay. 

You should have the ability to look at your grades so that you can monitor your performance for whatever reason. Whether you go out of your way to see the grades or not should be your own prerogative.

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