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Why it's Time to Give Up Grades

Updated: Nov 14, 2019


It's a sound. A feeling. It's the color red.

It's the best word to describe how I used to feel about having to grade piles of students' writing or carefully crafted student projects. (I gave up on testing a long time ago, but that's a topic for another post sometime in the future). 

It isn't the reading part that frustrates me or the feedback, it's the unnecessary practice of having to quantify what their writing is worth in a language that doesn't make sense. 

How could I possibly put a number or letter value that starts to communicate with any kind of precision what the students know and can do?

The bottom line is that the grading system that currently exists is imperfect and so are the teachers who use them (Myself included).

Given the amount of subjectivity inherent in this process, labeling any piece of student work with a grade is completely arbitrary. So that's why we need to consider our options on behalf of the students.

As it is, we have already beat students into a grading stupor that they don't even realize they're in. They have been trained into the idea that learning can only be validated by a high grade placed on a test, assignment or report card and the bottom line is "What'd I get?"

This is the biggest travesty currently happening in education (this tied to the testing that also kills curiosity and a love of learning).

Students, parents, and teachers need to understand that if we disassociate learning with a grade, we are free to discuss the real nature of learning and how to improve the experience for everyone involved.

Here are some benefits of giving up grades:

  • a more precise system of communicating learning - conversations that come through written feedback and formative assessment with regular conferences.

  • an opportunity to teach students to track their skill progress against standards instead of giving one grade that is an average of many things

  • students become metacognitively aware of their strengths and challenges and more importantly work with them on strategies for improving on both

  • since there is no terminus like a grade, learning is on-going and mastery is always the goal

  • better relationships are developed because communication about learning becomes more meaningful - there's more investment

  • the absence of the agony of trying to determine the appropriate grade to communicate 

Grades have long since been a part of our system, albeit a broken part. Let's help the stakeholders understand the power of formative feedback and standards-based conversations and let go of what is not working.

Are you willing to give up grades? What will be your first step?

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in November of 2014

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