Thursday, March 23, 2017

Education Without Grades

       Imagine P - 12 schooling without grades.

       Learning?  Yes.
       Art?  Yes.
       Clubs?  Yes.
       Teachers, friends, computers, classes, classrooms?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
       Grades?  No.

       The idea of an educational landscape without grades is not so new and (in fact) there are a significant number of schools that are experimenting this idea right now.  New York High School English teacher, Starr Sackstein, has been talking about this for years.  We still teach and we still assess.  We just don't use the traditional grading system of attaching a number or a letter to that assessment.

       The problem with "grading" is that it has grown to be a monster that we can't control.  Parents and students alike will tell you that they care more about "getting-a-good-grade" than they do about "learning".  As with so many other aspects of American life, grading has become a competition to be won, rather than a method for measuring learning and understanding of academic content.  Add to this that grading systems vary widely from school to school and even from teacher to teacher (sometimes) in the same school to the point that it is hard to say what a particular grade actually means; or if the same "grade" means the same thing from one class to another.

       Still, it can be hard to convince a generation that (whether they like it or don't like it) has grown up with the letter grade system, that a no grades system is a better way to conduct our middle and high schools.  Here is a great article that contains students' thoughts about living through a "no-grades" experiment.  (Spoiler alert: One-third liked the idea, one-third didn't like it, and one-third didn't care.)

       I often say that the goal of education is learning.  If something hampers our efforts to help students to learn, I think we should do something about that.  Grades and grading have (in many cases) become the new goal or the more prominent goal of education in the minds of many students and parents.  That's a problem.  If we are preparing students for the world of work, what will be their motivation if without grades in the workplace?

       Colleges regularly get rid of students that can't keep up academically.  It doesn't matter what their grades were in high school.  What matters is what they know and are able to do.  Same thing with employers.  Good grades might get you the job, but only true ability will enable you to keep the job.  We need to teach students the value of learning exceeds the value of earning good grades.  Maybe the way to do this is to get rid of the grades.

       What do you think?


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