Don’t you just hate “Target Grades”

Well perhaps not “hate” but they do concern me for a number of reasons.

It won’t be long before the UK starts school again but I would bet even now there will be computers crunching Key Stage or end of year test results running them through algorithms to predict future performance in order to set target grades.

This worries me, does it you?

I am no expert in statistics but I assume that with enough data and analysis you could begin to predict what could happen in the future based on what has gone before. But – this is only a prediction, a percentage chance that something could or could not happen. Life or car insurance must be much the same with certain categories resulting in much higher premiums as they are more likely to have an accident than others. The difference being as, far as insurance goes, if the model is right the company makes a profit and if not a loss. With target grades the model outcome is quite different, you are setting a challenge, an expectation and the conditions for failure or success. This is not a profit or loss situation, it is life chances.

What I am interested in as a teacher is the psychological impact of target grades on the students as well as how it changes the teaching and learning landscape.

Here are my questions so far.

  • Having a target for anything suggests accountability. “Why did you not reach the target?” is accusatory and you are on the defensive straight away.  Is this good for the teaching and learning environment and relationship?
  • Who decides, and how, on a suitable target?
  • Is prior performance a good predictor of future performance, can there be a linear gradient link between the two?
  • Do we understand and acknowledge the psychological effects of target setting and work to mitigate any negative aspects?
  • Are we clear and consistent in our use of the term “target grade”. Are there sub categories for example “aspirational target grade” or “minimum target grade” that confuse?
  • What happens if you exceed a target grade before the allotted time period or assessment point?
  • How do we account for and what are the implications for exceeding or not reaching a target grade?
  • If we accept that progress is not linear when do we begin to concern ourselves about reaching a target grade?
  • Who’s fault is it (or who gets blamed?) if a target grade is not achieved, is it the student, the teacher or whoever arrived at the target grade, or is it all three?
  • Boys and girls appear to react differently to target grades*. If this is the case why?
  • Do we ever ignore potential because of a set lower target grade?
  • Does setting targets based on a statistical model actually raise individual achievement?
  • Is everything needed to meet a target within the control of the teacher or the learner?
  • Is the time and effort spent assessing, recording and monitoring targets getting in the way of teaching? In short is it worth it?

It also occurs to me that those setting the target have a responsibility in terms of understanding the impact such an action has. I recognise that when students achieve or exceed a target we celebrate this and there are recognised systems in place to do so but where I am not so confident is in seeing similar systems for those who fail to reach a target grade.

If you feel like commenting on either the original interest topic or the questions please do so I would be glad to hear of your perspective, experience or view.

*See the article “Why many boys only do just enough



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About AcEd

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs as well as detailing those needs: Power Belonging, Choice and Fun - PBCF. Kevin Hewitson 2019

5 responses to “Don’t you just hate “Target Grades””

  1. R Waring says :

    Reblogged this on rwaringatl.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. examinedexams says :

    These are all very insightful questions, and all are questions that need to be properly addressed before we lament over statistics like literacy rates, school retention levels, and even youth mental health. Our system here in Australia is like any other, where standardised testing has developed a culture where every child is reduced to a mere rank amongst peers. It is a lose-lose situation all round when, like your questions have addressed, students hang their expectations of themselves on a superficial score and schools (and the board) can only judge based on one-off exam performances. The accountability issue you raised is a big one, and this need to meet a specified target feeds the culture of rote-learning and school-related stress and discontent.
    I am running a campaign that reveals the ugly effects of succumbing to a superficial education system and encourages students (and those related to them) to find passions to adapt their learning towards. Please do check it out and I hope there is a chance to collaborate!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 4c3d says :

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You are echoing many of both my experiences and worries here in the UK. Certainly happy to collaborate in any way we can. My ‘solution’ to adapting learning is called “Learning Intelligence” or “LQ”. Search my blog for my many, many, articles written about and exploring this concept. E-mail is


      • examinedexams says :

        Thank you for your response and I sure will! I believe this issue isn’t isolated to any part of the world so there is much to learn from each other. I’ll be in touch shortly to discuss further via email!


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