Let’s Minus the Minuses!


Teaching and assessment go hand in hand. Percentages and grades give students and parents an indication of a student’s academic progress within a given class, and that’s fine. Within each percentage and letter grade lie three variations. Here’s an example:

70 – 74% = B–
75 – 76% = B
77 – 79% = B+

This breakdown makes sense on paper, but what are the primary reasons people become teachers in the first place? To create a safe learning environment that instills confidence in our students. Minuses are confidence crushers because, as anyone who has ever worked with an integer knows, minuses are negatives. Not once, while I was in Teacher’s College, did I ever have an instructor rally us with a cheer of, “Now go out there and be negative!” During parent conferences, try to justify a minus and explain it to a parent, especially an A–.

“Your child has completed excellent work, but the minus indicates that their excellence needs improvement, and with a little more effort, they can become a little more excellent, although they are already excellent, just not as excellent as some of the other excellence in the class.”

“Say what!?”

Over the decades, slight and minor adjustments in our teaching practices have boosted our students’ confidence. The word “wrong” has virtually been eliminated from all classrooms for the better. We realized that marking with a red pen was linked to the red of a stop sign, so we “stopped” using a red pen and used the colour “green for go” instead. X’s for incorrect answers have also gone the way of the dodo, replaced by more positive underlines, highlights, and circles. Consequences are also adjusting to a new world of restorative practices and progressive discipline.

The time has come for eliminating minuses to join the positive and revolutionary steps that instill confidence in our students. Eliminating the minuses will allow educators to focus on the positives, and we know that there are positives in every assignment and work product submitted by a student if we look for it and, most importantly, communicate those positives to our students.

Here’s my revolutionary idea—two levels of grades, for example, a B and a B+ and so on. A mark of 70 – 75 would be a B and of 76 – 79, a B+.

Minusing the minuses may not be revolutionary and groundbreaking, but every opportunity an educator has to instill positivity and confidence in our students must be taken. Each learning day, educators work relentlessly to create a positive learning environment for their students. Removing minuses as a part of educator assessments is also a perfect example of real-world math; a positive will aid in reducing negatives in math and the classroom!


Mario Griscti
Mario Griscti is a classroom teacher in Whitby, ON.

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2024 issue.


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