Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Grading Moratorium: Chad Sansing

Chad Sansing has joined the Grading Moratorium. Want to join? Here's how.

Chad Sansing
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
Grade 8

Language Arts & Civics
School Development

At what stage of the abolish grading game are you?

At present I have a request to abolish grading in my classroom under review by my school management team, of which [disclosure] I am a part, though I will abstain from any kind of vote on approval of my request. The team is made up of teachers, parents, community representatives, and our school co-founders.

In essence, I'm asking to trade away grades in return for increased teacher accountability for narrative feedback and reporting and increased opportunities for student self-assessment, peer critique, and expert mentoring.

In the past, I facilitated standards-based assessment and reporting pilots in my own classroom and across a department. I got my principal's permission for my pilot and a district waiver for the department pilot.

Why do you want to or why did you abolish grading?

Grades are the McGuffin of public education.
Learning is evident in students' lives and work. We should be facilitating and sharing opportunities - call them assessments if you still like that word (I do) - that showcase student learning in obvious and transparent ways.

We should not be juking stats or using numbers and letters in painfully brash ways to control children for adults' political and economic ends.

I want to abolish grading to help scale-up approaches that represent excellent student learning and work as they are.

What do you do in place of grading?

We use a mix of student self-assessment and teacher feedback to move learning forward in our class. Students design projects and assess them at the end using criteria that they create, negotiate with me, or borrow from me. As students work on the projects, they use entrance and exit slips to set daily goals and reflect on what they did to meet them. I look at the plans, entrance and exit slips, and self-assessments and suggest next steps and resources based on what I see. Sometimes students ask for help with a particular bit of research or learning, and sometimes I see a discrepancy between their work and their perception of it and we look at exemplars and/or possible next steps to help align students' notions of excellence with the quality of their work.

I also used some traditional grading last year in a school-wide A/B/Not Yet Mastered reporting scheme.

How do you establish a grade if you have no grades?

This year I have requested to report out on students' learning using narrative comments and some kind of progress- and mastery-based account of students progress through state standards. I do not anticipate establishing grades,

Last year I used students' self-assessments, rubrics, and some straight percentage scores on low-level assessments used to measure students' mastery of state content in support of larger rubric- and student-assessed projects. I don't endorse percentage scoring; it was a step backwards for me taken in response to fears and frustrations about standardized testing. I'm ambivalent about using rubrics; they're not an assessment strategy in and of themselves. Care should be taken with rubrics to make sure they incorporate students' voices and notions of excellence, as well as negotiated criteria for excellence and opportunities for reflection and revision. If student learning is its own obvious and compelling proof, then I don't think rubrics are any more or less necessary than authentic, quality feedback from a teacher, from peers, and from mentors.

In so much as a rubric - or any other measure - keeps learning inside the classroom, in a closed individual-student-to-teacher "network," it should be eschewed.

What fears do you have about abolishing grading?

I went through my long, dark night of the school regarding standardized test scores, AYP, and school-improvement last Fall. I carry a lot of anxiety about whether or not my teaching, in general, helps my students and contributes to the viability of my school. I want this to be a useful anxiety that pushes me to be accountable to my students and their learning by facilitating access to authentic learning and the creation of excellent work inside and outside the classroom with caring teachers, peers, and mentors.

Are you willing to speak with others who are interested in abolishing grading?

Of course.


  1. Wow, Chad, this is some of the most thoughtful and articulate writing I've seen in some time. Your statements about the damages of grading are bold and reasonable. Your solutions are equally engaging.

    I appreciate your anxiety about achievement tests and your own impact on your students. I constantly ask myself these same questions.

    Thanks for this powerful post.

  2. Thanks, Mark - I'm glad I was able to be clear about my feelings, ambitions, and shortcomings in assessment. I have butterflies in my stomach about this year, but I'm tremendously confident that my students will amaze me with work enriched by peer, mentor, and teacher feedback - work that grades won't be able to devalue.

    All the best,


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