Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There are bad ways and there are really bad ways to grade

There are bad ways to grade and then there are really bad ways to grade. If you really need to grade, here's a wonderful video featuring Rick Wormeli on how you can grade less badly:

We have spent 100 years trying to figure out how we can get grades right, and we could spend another 100 years driving each other to distraction when we should be talking about learning. Grades are inherently subjective and problematic. That's never going to change. No one is ever going to be happy with how we reduce learning to a number.

But that's okay. I've got an idea. Let's stop reducing something that as magnificently messy as learning to anything. This is why we need to abandon our mania for reducing learning to numbers and acknowledge that learning cannot be measure but it can be observed.

Things aren't likely to get better until we stop asking how we can grade better and start asking why are we grading at all.


  1. Given that all this is true....

    How do we get universities to stop asking or caring what a student's grades were when considering admissions? Seems to me the most practical effect of grades is sorting students out for the post-secondary institutions. If a university is getting 30,000 applications for admission, what can they base admission on, and get it done in a timely manner?

  2. We're fortunate at the middle level that grades don't determine whether a child advances or not. There are no credits in middle school so we can assess our students without grades or at least without zeroes.

  3. Michael R - Universities could have entrance exams. Or require an essay or interview. There are options. Why should K-12 do something just because a portion of students might one day go to post secondary?

  4. Michael - I can't find the citation at the moment but I recall reading a report regarding college admission that the majority polled reported that they don't care about GPAs and grades. That is, if a student presents with a "non-traditional" report card or portfolio, the admissions staff take it in stride. I believe the connection was made to homeschooled students.

    Joe - we are completely on the same page with regards to the systems' over-reliance on quantitative evidence of learning. Numbers aren't really that much more objective than words and grades don't really make sense once you think about the objective of public education. That said, I have to disagree with one of your lines: "Let's stop reducing something that as magnificently messy as learning to anything." The problem is that we HAVE to reduce learning to something - albeit words, phrases, or images, otherwise we'll have no way to communicate. Parents cannot sit beside their child at all times to observe learning. Even if a student creates an amazing, beautiful, authentic portfolio to share their learning, they are still reducing their learning to a select number of pieces or tasks. I fear as long as the rally cry remains "Stop reducing"! and don't focus on the most powerful and authentic ways to reduce, the conversation will remain stagnant.

  5. Jenn B.

    Stop reducing a messy process to grades...and what would be the most powerful and authentic ways to reduce...well how about performance, practice or embodiment of learning. Let's say authentic evidence that student A has developed a command of literary devices for example is situated firstly in the communication crafted by the student.
    More emphasis on reflection and meta-cognitive assessment wherein the learner knows the the criteria required for the work and can critique artifacts produced in terms of the assessment criteria will result in transferable and transformative learning that animates and informs decisions beyond the classroom walls.


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