Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chasing testsandgrades and calling it learning

Grade books are merely an efficient way of cataloging a student's mistakes. By reducing something as magnificently messy as learning to a number or letter, grade books are a great way of ranking and sorting children in an effort to provide the system what it wants without ever providing anything the children need.

The problem is we are enamoured with trying to answer the question "What's this worth?", so we call this assessment. When we encourage students and teachers to chase testsandgrades and call it learning the best intentioned teachers can become indistinguishable from some of the worst.

Socrates once said that "the beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms", and until we properly define assessment as a process where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning, then little good will come from this thing we call school.

**Thanks to Jared Nichol for the title of this post.


  1. I agree...I wish the "system" could get away from grades and focus on learning & development...then we come back to assessing how much they learned/developed

  2. assess - Verb
    1. Evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality of...

    grade – noun
    a degree or step in a scale, as of rank, advancement, quality, value, or intensity: the best grade of paper.
    a class of persons or things of the same relative rank, quality, etc.

    I guess public education needs to be forthright about its true goals.

  3. What's the alternative? How would high schools and colleges know which students to accept and which reject?

  4. Amichai - the alternative is substantive feedback. What would a high school or college that is purportedly interested in kids be more apt to pay attention to: a plentiful binder/portfolio of student work and narrative feedback from educators, or a simple GPA?

    Obviously, the GPA is easy, cheap, and so ingrained in our society that to go away from it is near sacrilege.

    And more to the point of your question: why should grades have anything to do with acceptance or rejection in the first place? It's funny how the "best" colleges only accept the "best" kids. If they were the "best" colleges, wouldn't logic dictate that they take the neediest kids and turn them around?

    Naaaaahhhhhhhhh that's crazy talk! That would ask colleges to operate as institutions of education and not profit! Silly me!



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