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Why are Some Teachers Prohibited from Grading in Red Ink?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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In some school districts, teachers are asked to refrain from grading in red ink due to concerns that the color could be perceived as negative, intense, or stressful. Many campaigns to strike red ink from examinations and papers have been led by parents, reacting to concerns stirred up by the publication of papers exploring human reactions to colors such as red. Others have been initiated by administrators who want their schools to be as child-friendly as possible.

Grading in red ink is an ancient and time-honored tradition. Since at least the 1700s, the color red has been used to mark corrections on academic papers, primarily because it stands out so well from the classic black or blue inks used for writing. Comments and editorial markings in red show up very strongly against a wide variety of backgrounds as well, which means that they will be easy to see and address.

However, some people feel that grading in red ink carries a great deal of negativity. Primarily, it is perceived as stressful, often for the very same reason which makes red ink a great marking color: because the ink seems to scream. Red is also a very emotionally charged color in many cultures, and in some studies, it has been shown to elevate levels of stress, tension, or emotional intensity. When teachers are asked not to use red ink, these studies are often cited, with administrators and parents suggesting that high stress levels may impede learning.

Red ink also appears to raise self-consciousness, and some people feel that it could contribute to poor self esteem, especially in the case of students who are struggling in school. Because red ink is so bold and distinctive, when a student receives a paper covered in red ink, his or her classmates can easily see it, and this may spark derisive commentary or mockery which could make the student feel bad, thereby increasing anxiety about academic performance.

Instead of grading in red ink, some teachers are choosing purple, which is viewed as a more positive, neutral color. Some teachers turn to green or hot pink as well, relying on these colors to stand out from the paper without seeming so aggressive.

Some teachers and administrators feel that the controversy about grading in red ink is a bit overblown, arguing that red ink is the most suitable for marking corrections and comments, and suggesting that stress has always been part of the academic experience. At the same time, there are educators who question the practice of teacher-editing a student's work entirely. These folks claim that it is not the red ink as much as the disrespect of scribbling on a student's hard work that is problematic.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon924896 — On Jan 08, 2014

Totally agree with post 5!

By vetmoves — On Jan 08, 2014

America is all about competition, but I feel that after reading this article it is the beginning of the end. Currently, some school districts do not allow for grading in red ink, which, in my opinion, has opened a can of worms.

I also feel that a kid who studies and asks questions and is a good student deserves the right to get no red ink on his/her assignment. I was not a perfect student. There were many papers I received in school and college where it looked as if someone sliced a wrist on my paper, but I learned from my mistakes. My goal was no red ink and I achieved that goal.

If you remove red ink from schools, then what next? No grades, no gpa, College admissions would be first come, first served with a signed check.

My biggest issue is let's shelter our children. Let's protect them from the evil red ink, but when they enter adulthood it will be a dog-eat-dog world and there is no shelter from the realities of life. As Americans, the only truth about America is survival of the fittest.

By anon924863 — On Jan 08, 2014

I think that this type of thinking is the reason The US lost its competitive agenda. no grading in red ink, score free sports, trophies for everyone. I think that is a disservice to those who study and deserve no red ink on there tests/assignments, to the teams who trained longer and harder and to those athletes who really do deserve a trophie. What next no GPA for college acceptance, no job performance evaluations, Those kids who are mediocre performers who get a trophey for nothing or a happy sticker on an f paper blame your parents when you can't get a job or why you did not get accepted to the university of your dreams.

By anon321499 — On Feb 22, 2013

I agree. I am having this problem now with my sons school. Success Academy schools in New York use red ink for their kindergarteners. If they have more than three corrections, they receive a red for the day. I thought this is when you start correcting kids.

By cupcake15 — On May 07, 2011

Sneakers41- I totally agree. Grading in education should be about helping students know what they did wrong, it is not about their self esteem because learning from mistakes is essential.

Students will make mistakes and being able to see what is wrong helps to prevent the same problem again. My children are not offended by the red marks and neither am I.

In fact, my children go to a supplemental math education program and the owner instructs the parents to make the children's corrections in red ink.

As a matter of fact,the owner offered me a red pen. I think that grades are objective and they have nothing to do with the student’s personality so it really should not offend them.

By sneakers41 — On May 05, 2011

I agree that using red pencils or pens for the purpose of grading in elementary school should be acceptable. I really do not understand the controversy because the red marks help to highlight the incorrect answer so that the student will know what they did wrong.

As a parent, if the incorrect answer is not pointed out like this, I might not even know what was wrong with the answer. I think that it is helpful because parents don’t have a lot of time to look through their children’s work and having the incorrect answers highlighted this way helps to get to the point and review the right response with our children so that next time they won’t have the same problem again.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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