Should Teachers Be Tough Graders? Here’s What They Have to Say

By Tanyon A. Duprey — June 12, 2024 2 min read
Close cropped photo of a teacher's grade on an essay graded 'F' in red with the words "See Me"
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When it comes to grading, does “tough love” work?

The disparity between students’ grades and their performance on standardized tests has resurfaced the age-old question about whether students’ grades accurately reflect what they’ve learned. Furthermore, new questions are emerging about what grading practices are most equitable.

In 2020, EdWeek covered a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute contending that students perform better on end-of-year standardized tests when their teachers are tough graders. The piece was recently resurfaced on social media, which prompted teachers to share their grading opinions. Educators discussed grading’s validity and relevance to learning, as well as their thoughts on grading practices as a whole.

See also

Girl holding test with C- letter grade.
Assessment When Teachers Are Tough Graders, Students Learn More, Study Says
Madeline Will, February 4, 2020
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The following is a collection of the most popular sentiments from those conversations.

In short ... hear, hear!


Francoise B.

“Gee, shocking.”

Verity S.

“I do hope this is not shocking.”

Mike E.


Mary W.

Should test scores be the end goal?

“’Doing better on tests’ means absolutely NOTHING.”

Lea B.

“With 20 years of data on standardized testing, I’ve yet to see someone use it to prove that standardized testing is working, or helpful to students at all, let alone worth the financial investment. Prepping students for a standardized test is NOT teaching.”

Tripp J.

“[I] had a teacher who told us the answers. We thought we were smart, but we were memorizing the information required.”

Shaune H.

Keep grading standards by the book

“So it’s simple. C is average. Most kids are there. B is above average, and A is extraordinary. Very few kids earn an A. But teachers just give them because it makes life easier. Then kids take tests and they are average ... Effort grades are different! Kids can work really hard and still be average, but their effort is outstanding. The difference matters a LOT!”

Sandra G.

“It is hard to get an A in my classes, but not because I purposefully make it difficult, but because to get an A, I require exceptional work. Doing the required work is expected, so if you do it all, you get a C. To get the A ... you have to go ‘well above the average’ in all skills ...”

Gonzalo R.

“I had hell to pay when my grades were lower than the lackadaisical previous teacher[‘s].”

Bruce S.

Tough grades can be a wakeup call

“I think tough grades are fine if students have options to learn from their mistakes and not be penalized for them. There has to be a way to do this while still holding students accountable for best efforts.”

Kerry S.

“Given the research that shows that grades themselves are not actually causally related to improving learning, I wonder if this study would also hold for: When teachers are demanding of quality work and offer time for students to respond to feedback, students learn more.”

Garreth H.

Progress—and the support of it—are key

“What if high expectations and support at the beginning and middle happened so grades didn’t have to be the wake-up call? Grades aren’t the answer. Supporting teachers who then have the power to support students is key. Bringing families in on the learning is the third leg to a balanced equation.”

Jan H.

“I’ve become a big fan of the four-point scale. 4 is above. 3 is on level. 2 is below, but progressing. 1 is well below. It gives parents a MUCH more accurate sense of what their kid is accomplishing.”

Allison H.

“This might’ve been true when kids cared about grades and parents were engaged in parenting enough to hold their kids accountable.”

Morgan B.

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