Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grades never hurt me

When I speak with others about abolishing grading, here is a common comment I receive:

I, personally, NEVER found that grades devalued my learning. They NEVER prevented me from learning or from enjoying what I was learning. I enjoyed getting good grades. I saw them as a validation of my hard work. When I did not get a good grade, I focused on what I missed and learned from my mistakes. I even went to my teachers / professors to get help when needed.

Here is my response:

It's important that to note that you said the word "I" eight times. While you may have a very good idea about your own opinion of grades, are you sure you are in touch with how most people feel about grades. Also note that you placed an exorbitant amount of faith in the grades you received. The assumption is that high grades mean a good thing and low grades a bad thing - the point is that you did then (and I fear still do) believe that grades are reliable, accurate and objective. How often did you get a good grade and go the teacher/professor (or think to yourself), "hmm, I wonder if this is really indicative of my learning. I wonder what mistakes I could learn from despite my high marks." 
Remember the real reason we assess children is so one day they can grow up and assess themselves. Grades all too often rob children of an opportunity to become autonomous learners who can properly self-assess without being told how to do so.


  1. This comment 'I saw them ( grades ) as a validation of my hard work ' tells us the limitation of grades - it can't validate ingenuity , creative thinking, interest , curiosity , risk taking of exploring new ideas , new ways of thinking, excitement , passion etc
    hard work would hardly decribe one's passion and love for learning.

  2. Thanks Joe. I agree with what you are saying. As a principal of a high school I feel that we are beholden to post secondary institutions and their dependence on letter grades. The entire system needs to shift. Fortunately it is happening

  3. This article in the Boston Globe will certainly interest you Joe, unless you've seem it already:

    On a different note, I Just saw Star Wars IV for the n'th time yesterday and was very intrigued/surprised at Solo's shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. No wonder you like the films so much!

  4. I will add the following comment that I have heard when it comes to defending the need for assigning grades...

    'We need to assign grades to students because the universities demand it. How else will they determine who to accept?'

    Sadly,whether they realize it or not, these people are acting like 'gatekeepers' for the universities. Is this the role of a teacher?
    I hope not...I thought we were in the business of student learning...

    1. However, that is still a fact. In Shangri-la, we could probably deal with grading any way we want. I have a certain way I grade in class, and it is non-traditional and focused on student achievement. However, I always have to manipulate that into a system that allows our students to apply to universities and colleges and to get scholarships. The system (from K-12) is being driven by grades 13+. Until that changes, we are unlikely to see any change at the lower grades. Just because teachers have to use grades in their districts and states does not mean they are not focused on student learning -- it just means they have to face reality on a more consistent basis.


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