Essentially, I am concerned that kids will come to devalue the role their effort plays in achieving excellence. I fear that they may attribute their success on external sources such as luck, difficulty or natural ability.
I want to talk about a comment Anonymous left today on my Grading Effort: Unintended Consequences post:
If Johnny is not a smart child, and Carol is...
Johnny's crappy project gets an A because he's not that smart?
Carol get's an A because it's a good project?
Carol looks at Johnny's crappy project with an A, and says "Hey what the?"
Next time she doesn't put that much effort in because why? Crappy gets an A if your "just not that smart"
If I was Carol....I would be PISSED
Anonymous is right...
...but not the way they would like to believe. If school is really just an exercise in collecting A's, and the point of it all is to compete against one another - then kids are right to focus on the grading inequities. If this is the case, then Carol is right to be pissed off when others succeed... she's right to be pissed off when she has to work with someone less intelligent than herself... she's right to be pissed off when doing the right thing doesn't reap the rewards she deserves.
After all, why would anyone ever willingly learn something if the promise of an A isn't waiting for you?
But is this really the kind of learning environment we wish provide for children? Would you want to learn under such tension?
A classroom that focuses on grading is not a classroom about real learning; in other words, rather than compete for grades, kids should collaborate over their learning.
The tone of the comment above from Anonymous leads me to believe they have fallen victim to a classic distraction inherent to traditional education - that is, they still believe that grades are meaningful and objective. Unfortunately, many people don't understand what Paul Dressel meant when he said:
A mark or grade is an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an indefinite amount of material.
And Alfie Kohn puts it this way:
What grades offer is spurious precision, a subjective rating masquerading as an objective assessment.
I am also bothered by how Anonymous condones Carol's anger.
With grades, Carol and other students are encouraged to focus on the wrong inequalities in school - grades force kids to see the credit inequality rather than the learning inequality. If we want to make kids into little narcissists who only look out for their own skin - their own grades - then I can think of no better way of doing so than implementing a rigorous grading system; however, if we truly understand how collaboration trumps competition, we would never pit students against each other.
Remove grades altogether, and we improve the chances that students like Carol will see students like Johnny as human beings they can help rather than someone to hate because they are garnishing undeserved credit.
I think Harry S. Truman summed up much of this discussion when he said:
It's amazing what you can get done when you don't care who gets the credit.
Maybe, just maybe, we could stop wasting our time being pissed at each other and spend our time learning. After all, it's hard to be serious about striving for excellence, inspiring learning and nurturing hope for all when we distract students from real learning with something as arbitrary and contrived as grading.