Even if you can rationalize why we must abolish grading and how we replace grading with something far more supportive of student learning and school improvement, there are some fears you must face before moving forward.
If I don't give a grade, why would students learn or do anything I ask them?
A couple thoughts come to mind here. Firstly, if there is no better reason for a student to do something you have asked them to do than the grade you are offering them, then I would question the quality of your request. If it requires an artificial inducement or fabricated threat to entice compliance from your students, then it is seriously time to rethink what you are asking them to do.
Secondly, this is a horrible way to think of students and, rather than an indictment of the student's lack of motivation, maybe more telling of the teacher's lack of motivation and need for bribes and threats.
If I let my students grade themselves, they will all chose 100% or an A.
To immediately disclude even the possibility that your whole class might achieve 100% is evidence that you consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously grade on a bell curve. Sound assessment practice dictates that norm-referenced assessment is archaic and utterly useless in reporting student learning. Seriously, what would be wrong with everyone getting 100%? I'll tell you why it's so awkward of a thought - because the very nature of the high standards fad means that some students must be made to fail. The very idea of everyone achieving excellence somehow translates into 'those damn teachers are too easy on those damn kids'. And so we raise the bar high enough to ensure a certain portion of children are made to fail. But I digress...
In the last 5 years that I have had students pick their grade, I can count on one hand how many students are completely dillusional about their grade. It is truly amazing how eerily accurate students can be when they honestly reflect on a grade for themselves. Ironically, I have found far more students to be too hard on themselves, and I am forced to actually increase the mark they would have given themselves.
Even if some students did select an inflated grade for themselves, what real harm is being done by this? We have such a queer definition of accountability - even if one kid happened to 'get away' with a higher grade than he 'deserved', wouldn't it be worth it to allow the other 99 kids the opportunity to have some say in their assessment?
Won't asking my students to pick their grade place undo stress on our relationship, if I end up disagreeing with them?
Absolutely not. Traditional grading typically provides students with no opportunity to feel like a stakeholder in their assessment because they are never asked to provide any input at all. But, let's say for argument sake that you disagree with a grade a student selected for themselves. That disagreement may be subjectively artificial depending on the scale you are using. The larger the scale, the more likely you are to disagree. For example, there is a far greater chance of disagreement with percentages, there are a lot of number between 1 and 100, than with letter grades. A smaller scale is always better, if we are trying to reach some kind of consensus.
Also be sure to ask yourself 'is this the hill I'm willing to die on?' Are you willing to slug it out in a disagreement over 1%? How about 5%? Now this is a trick question because it is all relative. If we are talking about the difference between 49% and 50% then the difference is a pass or fail - life or death for the student. But if we are talking about 64% and 65% then I have absolutely no idea what the difference between these two numbers are.
I could go on and on, but I have one last question for you.
Do you see how bloody distracting grades are?
Can you see how we could talk about grades forever and never really discuss learning?
To be honest, my fear is that we are so driven to distraction that we may continue trying to tinker around with grading with rubrics and complicated averaging metrics in an attempt to make it work when really we need abandon the entire system.
For more on abolishing grading, check out this page.