- They are constantly asking, "Is this going to be graded?"
- They refuse to do anything if it is not being graded.
- They ask for "extra credit" or make-up work at the end of the marking term to raise their grade to the next letter grade.
- They only see the grade at the top of their returned work and ignore the helpful comments that the teacher has written.
- They try to memorize the information they need to know for tests.
- They follow procedures in mathematics for unknown reasons just to get the right answer.
In short, students who are obsessed with grades are just "going through the motions" at school; they do what they're told, but they learn very little. And when they take a test that can't be beat by memorizing (like a final exam) they show their true ability or lack thereof. The challenge for these students is to do as little as possible to earn the grade they want.
THIS IS NOT THE WAY SCHOOL IS SUPPOSED TO WORK.
School is supposed to be all about learning. If students aren't learning, than we are wasting their time. And if we are (somehow) justifying how these grades-obsessed students are getting A's and B's, then we are giving them (and their parents) a false sense of accomplishment. Eventually someone will tell these students the truth about their academic abilities, and it would be a shame if they are in college (and paying for college) when they are hit with this truth-bomb.
Teachers can help their students to de-emphasize grades by praising them for their thinking and reasoning. They can emphasize learning by asking students to explain how they got the right answer instead of just accepting the right answer and moving on. Formative assessments that require thinking and reasoning and justifying instead of just repeating information tell students that memorizing isn't good enough.
We have to help students to be less obsessed about grades.