Can Throwing Out Grades Help Students with a Mental Health Illness?

You bet it can!

It also helps nearly all of our students reduce personal levels of anxiety. Don’t take my word for it, here are two examples of how my grade 7/8 students this year are experiencing a no grades classroom for the first time.

eliminate grades

Student A is an above average student who routinely works hard to produce her best work. Last year she would routinely worry about what grade she would receive on completed work. Often asking me to look at her work ahead of time and provide a preliminary grade so she would know how much more work she needed to do to achieve a higher grade. When she occasionally submitted lower level work for her (as well all do at times) she would begin to spiral out of control with worry about failing.

This year, without grades she is a much happier/positive person and is now finally enjoying the learning process. Recently we talked about how this year was different than last year and she told me it all comes down to not having the pressure of grades. Several times last year she came to me stressed that she lost marks (in this case 10%) on her writing piece (she got 90%) and how she could get to 100%. This past week she laughed about how much pressure she felt to get a certain grade and how she hated school because of it. Without grades she now focuses on the feedback provided and is finally able to celebrate the good that she is doing and focus on improving her skills to be ready for high school next year.

Student B is a hard working student who has academic and anxiety challenges. She explained to me that she was dumb. That it took her longer to complete her work than the ‘normal kids’ and that her grades proved that she is simple not smart and never will be. There is nothing that makes a teacher feel worse than to hear these words…you all know what I mean. She began this year with a high level of anxiety and little hope for her learning future. Her challenges with anxiety began to spiral out of control and led to some significant challenges.

After spending a significant amount of time working with her to understand the nature of her fears we realized it led back to her perception of her peers and the crushing finality of grades. Removing grades from the equation resulted in a fairly quick change in her feelings. As she expresses to me, I can now see past the number as there isn’t one. There are things I can do really well, but I did not know this before. I still struggle and get frustrated by things like math, but now I can usually get it by working hard.

In the span of a couple of months, Student A and Student B have reduced their anxiety levels about school in general, developed a more open mindset about learning in general (especially at school) and are much more invested in the learning process.

Elimination of grades = decreased anxiety

Elimination of grades = increase in positive self-esteem

Elimination of grades = focus on mastering skills, not achievement of a number

Elimination of grades = a more open mindset to learning

***Any students who wish to know their numeric grade on an assignment may simply ask me and I will provide it. No one has asked in the past 6 months.



  1. This is a very interesting take on grading, mental health, and learning. I like most of what you said, but the reality of the world we live in pulls me back a little bit. I’m all about improving the mental health of school-aged children because there is no mental health training in most schools. I’m also all for improving performance in any way possible. The only hangup I have is when that student gets to the point in their life when they have to apply for college. What will they tell an admissions officer when that person asks for their GPA? Colleges don’t care how happy you were during high school, but how well you performed. A grade based society, sadly, is one we live in. This idea, in theory, is wonderful, but the transition into the real world is where I get lost.

    Great post. Tons of awesome points to ponder.

    • I very much appreciate your reply and do agree with you. I am a grade 7/8 teacher in an elementary school in Ontario. My hope is that by throwing out grades at this level it will instill in my students that grades are a poor reflection of their learning. We do discuss how grades are important in high school as they are the tool used for admission to college and university. However, if over the two years I am lucky enough to work with them I can help them understand that the learning is the key aspect of school and life and that if you focus on the learning the grades will take care of themselves I feel like I have set them up for future success (I hope).
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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