Should primary schools give grades

School grades debate - "Giving a bad grade doesn't help"

In some federal states there are already certificates, in others it will soon be the case. In many families, bad and good grades are discussed again. And sometimes tears flow. But are grades the right way to judge children? Don't primary school students tend to be demotivated by bad grades? And how is the procedure in other countries? We spoke to the experienced school teacher Jörg Ramseger.

How common are grades in German schools?

From the third grade at the latest, numerical grades are common in most schools. Since 1973, at least in the first two school years - in Bavaria only in the first school year - grades have not been given. Instead, there are written learning development reports. As a rule, parents can vote on whether there should continue to be development reports or grades in the third and fourth grades. The vast majority of parents choose grades.

This procedure has been practiced for a long time. Does something speak against grades?

The grading system empowers those who are already successful and harms those who have a harder time studying. Like everyone else, children learn from success. Schools that take their educational mission seriously ensure that all children have a sense of achievement. They differentiate the learning opportunities and give the children tasks that are adapted to their abilities. In this way the children experience that they can do something. Self-esteem grows with the tasks that you successfully master. The children are motivated and trained to perform. Often, however, we do exactly the opposite at school: instead of helping them achieve success, we hold the children against their mistakes. A child who improved on dictation from 35 to 25 mistakes in elementary school has made huge progress. But if the other children only make five mistakes, they still get a grade of 6. And then they stop learning, withdraw or become a troublemaker.

We live in a performance society. From the point of view of many parents, this must also be reflected in school

Schools without grades are not less effective, they just report learning success differently. When giving feedback, it is important to encourage the children to continue learning. Children who learn slowly are permanently discouraged by bad grades. Grades destroy their performance instead of promoting it. Foregoing grades does not mean that teachers are not allowed to criticize. But this should better be done in the form of a work review. For example: "Look out, you haven't understood the perfect tense in English, we still have to practice that." Or: "There is no tension in your essay. Let's see how we can add tension to your story. ”Simply giving a bad grade doesn't help anyone.

Parents often say their children are lazy and need the pressure of grades

Grades are only performance-enhancing for children who can help themselves. Those who were actually a bit lazy and say to themselves after a bad grade: "Good, then I'll sit down on my pants and do a little more." For such students, a bad grade can actually be an incentive. But that only affects a few children.

In fact, older students in particular often seem unmotivated ...

Grades are not the solution, but the cause of a lack of motivation: the longer the children go to school, the more they learn that school is not primarily about the content, but only about the result. Then they no longer believe in the importance of the content. Grades ruin interest in content and, ultimately, education. This also applies to good students.

In your experience, what function do grades have?

The children put grades in a competition with one another, in a ranking scale. They make a social comparison that some parents want. But they continue to damage the losers in this system. Once you are bad, you end up thinking of yourself: “I am always bad. I just can't learn. ”This is particularly devastating at elementary school age because the children are still small and don't see through how they are being assessed. You personalize your own failure. The learning success depends not only on the performance of the child, but also on that of the teacher. We have all seen how we blossomed with another teacher in a subject we weren't good at before. But only the children are graded.

Aren't grades used for comparability?

Digit censorship has a magical side: it suggests precision. The parents think they are comparable. Society makes them believe that too, because it links permissions to the grade point average. For example, the readout system for university admission relies on grades.

The teachers assign grades to the best of their knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, these always remain subjective, because the learning situation in the class is always unique and therefore not comparable. Lessons are highly complex, dynamic events with different personalities who get involved in one way or the other. Every day is different, depending on moods, stress, fatigue in children and teachers. It cannot be standardized and therefore the results are in principle not comparable.

In addition, in an average elementary school class we have development differences of at least three years within one age group. At first this is just the pure individuality of the children. Then there are the different living conditions: teachers then compare the child who has already enjoyed an intensive literary education at home for five years with the child who has not yet looked at a single book at home. If we use the same test on all of them, we are doing at least half of the children injustice. We ask them to do things that they are incapable of doing.

What can we do better?

An American school reformer once said that if you have to give grades, you should do it as late as possible, as rarely as possible and as discreetly as possible. At least in elementary school you shouldn't give grades. It would be even better, as in Scandinavia, to forego grades up to grade 8. If a child gets grades late, their previous experience has given them more confidence in their ability. Nor can it be said that Scandinavian students are less productive as adults. These are highly productive countries.

How can parents support their children?

If there are grades: no drama about getting bad grades and no reward for good grades, especially not money. You corrupt the children with it and show them that the content is not important, only the balance sheet. But the children shouldn't study for a good grade, but rather for being able to calculate well or speak English well. It is also important to be happy about small advances and to praise a child who gets from grade 4 to grade 3 just as much as a child who gets grade 1. In the case of bad grades, one should show understanding and not rant and thus make things worse. The children do not bring bad grades home on purpose, but because the range of lessons was not sufficiently differentiated and not adapted to their ability to perform. If you make that clear, you don't need to dramatize notes.

Expert in elementary school

Jörg Ramseger is professor for school education with a focus on elementary schools at the Free University of Berlin (FU). He retired last autumn, but continues to head the “Arbeitsstelle Bildungsforschung Primarstufe”, a research facility of the FU that deals with various forms of performance assessment in schools, among other things. For the further development of the elementary school, he is also involved in the elementary school association, a non-profit initiative made up of schools, teachers and scientists.

By Monika Herbst / RND