Monday, March 12, 2012

I want to abolish grading but where do I start?

When I talk about abolishing grading, I am often asked for advice on where to start. After all, the idea that teachers would purge their assessment tool boxes of grades is no small order.

This is true for many reasons and I've written about some of those reasons here.

Because the first step towards landing on the moon was taken on earth, you can abolish grading entirely only after you have made the move to grade less than you do now.

It's true that I quit cold turkey but I wouldn't necessarily suggest this for everyone.

It is very likely that you are mandated by your employer to grade in some fashion, and if you were to refuse this expectation, you would be fired.

Let me be crystal clear, I would never ask you to so jeopardize your employment.

But I am willing to bet that you grade more than you are mandated to do.

So here's what I want you to try: Pick an assignment or project and don't grade it. Instead, observe the project & provide students with only formative comments.

If you want to teach a fish about water, you don't lecture the fish -- you pull it out of the water. So it's time for me to stop lecturing and for you to go try teaching and learning without grades.

One more thing. The absence of grading is a necessary component of a learning environment focused on real learning but it is not necessarily sufficient. If you remove the manipulative force of grades without examining the quality of your assignments, don't be surprised if some students refuse to fill in your worksheets.

Without the manipulative forces of grading that often compels even the most rebellious of students to comply by completing whatever assignments you dream up, you will now have to ensure that your project ideas & lessons are engaging.

I suggest you use three criteria to do this. Make sure that every project is in a context and for a purpose. And finally, be sure to bring the kids in on it. In other words, let them have a say not only in how they learn but what they learn.

If you do this with enough projects you might find the students stop talking so much about grading and focusing on real learning. I abolished grading in 2004, and I've never gone back Here's what I have observed.

You can read more about Abolishing Grading here.


  1. Couldn't agree more! The hard part, as you said, is shifting the culture...the assumption that nothing is going on if you're not entering grades.
    This is great stuff; thank you for encouraging the conversation. If we keep talking about it (and doing something about it to the extent that we can), one day people will listen.

  2. Our school is trying to work on a continuum of skills in reading and writing and I think it shifts the focus more on the mastery of the skill and reflection on my part as the teacher on how I want to bridge the gap for the students.

    You are so right about grading more that I am expected to do, but I always feel like I am obligated to if I expect the student to put the time in to do it, then I need to give them feedback on it. Not always a percentage or a letter grade, but a comment, and that takes more time too.

  3. Nice ideas, and entirely sensible, but the political grip on education must first be loosened, both in the US and here in the UK.

    I would love to see a profile of skills, as a kind of continuum, rather than digitised into discrete subject grades.

    There is also a generalised, multi-disciplined aspect to any assessment - I eventually realised that my own analytical skills allowed me to excel at Maths, but school conditioned me into thinking that Maths was my skill.

    But grades and league tables and teacher and school assessments will be the order of the day when accountability is the focus, and that will remain the focus when politicians feel they have to control in order to improve.


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