Grading Can Be Capitalist, Racist, and Exploitative

Ken Shelton
5 min readMay 1, 2021

Part One: What are we actually grading anyway?

By Ken Shelton and Nadia Razi

Red F with circle over image of classroom with empty desks

Now that you are here, take the time read and process this series. Too many look at the title and do not take the time to read and process. Pre-questions to consider:

  1. What are/were your experiences with grades when you were in school?
  2. Did they truly represent your learning?
  3. Were there times where you felt earning a good grade was more of a game than actually representational of learning?
  4. If the title elicits an emotional response ask yourself why is that the case?
  5. Are you willing to own and accept existing systems of inequity?

In this multi-part series, Ken and Nadia will present a detailed examination, analysis, and interrogation on the enduring norm we call grading. We will examine the embedded purpose of grading, policies that are inequitable by design, and potential solutions that will not only provide a pathway towards reform but also be aligned with a more just and equitable system.

Though we have reworked policies and practices in the spirit of educational equity, grading remains a longstanding tradition that hasn’t changed much since before we were students ourselves. Using an antiquated percentage system (that makes it far easier to fail than succeed), educators continue to encourage competition among students, reinforce stratification by design, and reward compliance and proficiency in a colonized and racist system of curriculum and assessment.

While we like to believe that our grading system assigns a letter that represents the totality of student learning, the reality is that grades are really nothing more than an educational stratification system. For example, grades are often used as one of the primary determining factors for opportunities in schools such as field trips, extracurricular activities, and even enrollment in advanced classes. When we consider class rankings, college applications, graduate school programs, grade point average, and the actions many will take all in the name of a letter, it is clear that this is an area of education that deserves much more attention in order to…

Ken Shelton

Keynote Speaker, TEDx Speaker, AB/AR Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Apple Distinguished Educator, MIEE, Visual Storyteller, (