Grading Can Be Capitalist, Racist, and Exploitative

Ken Shelton
8 min readJun 15, 2021

Part Four: Changes to make

By Ken Shelton and Nadia Razi

As classroom teachers, we have to assign grades. We spend endless hours grading and engage in countless discussions about grades, but once a student is out of our class, their grade will probably never again cross our mind. Students, however, carry their grades forever: academic Scarlet Letters that dictate their future. By the time students apply for college or a job, their grades weigh heavily on future opportunities.

GPA: Grading’s Performative Actions

Grade point average (GPA) is essentially the cumulative average of all grades, measured either by raw numbers or weighted averages for honors or AP classes. More often than not, a student’s GPA serves as the primary evaluatory measure of their academic performance and academic potential. It is used to determine class ranking, eligibility for extracurricular activities such as sports, and enrollment in honors and/or AP classes. GPA is one of the most critical factors colleges and universities look at for admission decisions, and it affects SAT/ACT score requirements for college admission. Ultimately, students are judged more on their GPA than what they actually learned in school. The pressure of achieving a “good” GPA creates a highly competitive learning environment and heightened focus on outcome (grade) rather than learning (process), and encourages academic dishonesty, but most importantly, is detrimental to student mental health.

Shifting Grading Practices

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, grading has become a hot topic of conversation, mainly because an unprecedented percentage of students have Ds and Fs. In some school districts in California, almost 40% of students had at least one failing grade (though this percentage is higher in other states). In response, one school district made the following modification to their grading scale:

They have slightly narrowed the F range and slightly widened the D range. But when we look at the standard scale, according to most college admissions, 70% of the scale still means failure. If a student earns below 70% in a class, does that always mean that they have not learned the material? Is it possible that a student “gets…

Ken Shelton

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