Friday, July 30, 2010

Working with Parents to Abolish Grading

Abolishing grading is both a worthy and challenging task. I'm often asked how parents react to it all. In my experience, for the most part, parents have been an easy sell.

In the five years since I first abolished grading, I've yet to have a parent come absolutely unglued with the prospect of no grading. I have had parents ask questions during parent-teacher interviews or student-led portfolios about this whole no grading thing, and I am more than willing to engage in the conversation - in fact, I'm usually the one who brings it up by asking "So, how do you feel about the way I do things? No grades, no homework, etc". I've noticed that many parents are relieved that I bring it up first as they are hesitant to engage in what might appear as a challenge to my teaching.

Most parents are interested in how I do it, but none of them can really conceive how school can be done without grading. I often ask myself why this is - why can't adults envision school without grades?

There are probably as many answers to this as there are adults who ask the question, but I believe there is some truth in the idea that most of us parent the way we were parented and teach the way we were taught.

But you have to remember that school was likely just as frustrating for today's parents as it is for today's students. School hasn't changed very much. Tests and grades haven't changed very much. The game of school  prevails.

Parents may not know it, but we must remember that most parents are an ally in the move against grading - it's our job to remind them how it felt to be gamed by the fraudulent grading and testing machine. To remind them, I ask them these kinds of questions:
  • Did you ever work really hard and learn a lot about something and receive a low grade?
  • Did you ever slack off and learn almost nothing but receive a high grade?
  • Can you think of someone you went to school with, and you knew they were really really smart, but always received low grades?
  • Can you think of someone who received really really high grades but you knew they were a dolt and that they had, at best, a superficial understanding?
The whole idea here is to convince parents to see (remember) how grading is and was so inaccurate for them and that nothing has changed for their child. I have yet to speak with a parent who couldn't remember how this all felt. I tend to get head nods of strong agreement - even by those who are most suspicious of my no-grading policies. They get it - they just need to be reminded.

In the end, parents may not walk away 100% convinced that no-grading is the answer, but there is one more trump card here that has them leaving the interview satisfied and that is they know their child is learning. They know because for some reason, their child keeps coming home and talking about Mr. Bower and what we did in science or language arts today.

Their children are coming home saying they like school! Their children are reading more. They're asking questions and researching seemingly random stuff on the Internet. They are writing, talking and thinking about what we are doing in school.

How do parents know their children are learning? They don't need grades or test scores to know all this because they can see it with their own eyes.

Their children are happy, and so they are happy.

And that makes me happy.


  1. I wish we could get more people to understand your perspective. Ever considered your theory in higher ed.? I attend St. John's College in Annapolis-- we technically have grades stored for graduate school applications and what not, but our grades are not published and we have oral exams and don rags instead of traditional tests/quizzes and report cards. It is a GREAT environment that inculcates personal responsibility for the learning that happens both inside and outside of the classroom.

  2. I've got an idea, Joe. This seems really important to you. Take a leaf from Nhung, and put up a petition at When thousands of parents sign on to your initiative, you're home free. You'll get invites to present your case to the ministry, TV interviews ... you name it. Good luck. No need to thank me.

  3. Robert, it is unbecoming to be falsely nice.

    It's also incongruent for you to tout research as being so important and then idolize an online petition.

    If you are going to leave comments on my blog, feel free to leave out the snark and the sarcasm. We may disagree on stuff, but that's no reason to stoop to behaviour that we would not accept from our students in the classroom.



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