Do grades matter?
Monday, August 12, 2019
Last month, ASCD released a series of articles on grading reform where both teachers and researchers identified key considerations for assessments that "fairly gauge and report students' learning" with the rise of the "no-grades classroom," one where the traditional A-F system is replaced by teachers by one with methods that encourage students to take charge of their learning progress.
Included in the list was this recent ASCD article by Jay Percell, which discussed "Strategies for Diving into Successful Grading Reform."
Percell started by making the case for grading reform, noting that traditional grades can be demoralizing to students, inhibit creative thinking, and ultimately stifle lifelong learning. Percell went on to identify a set of strategies that teachers could use when starting with grading reform. They included things such as:
Don't Go It Alone: Percell encouraged teachers to find a teaching colleague, a team, or some other form of a professional learning network to share in the journey.
Don't Ride the Fence: Teachers were encouraged to commit to the grading reform model and not compromise the system in an effort to appease those who don’t or won’t buy-in to the idea.
Find a System That Works for You: Percell reminded teachers that they will be far more successful if the system they select is one that they believe they can be successful with early on.
In another recent ASCD article, rubric expert Susan Brookhart noted that a perfect world is one with no grades. Brookhart went on to suggest that such a system is possible if a school could address the following two conditions:
- Find other ways to do administrative tasks that require aggregating, sorting, and ranking.
- Identify the kind of information that can both support and report student learning and make sure all teachers and students know how to do that well.
Brookhart drew from her vast experience with systems that establish clear learning goals and descriptive assessment methods. Many schools have found success with this in their mastery-based or competency-based models.
Still, she cautioned this: “Promising practices exist for going gradeless for assessment to report learning, but until some administrative problems are solved or reframed, we still need grading scales that can support administrative needs to aggregate information and sort or rank students.” It seems this is our next hurdle to overcome as a profession.
I talked at length about the need for grading reform in my 2018 Solution Tree book, "Breaking With Tradition: The Shift to Competency-Based Learning in PLCs at Work." I shared a summary of my thoughts in this MultiBriefs article.
As a professional community, we need to move to a model where we grade students on what they learn, not what they earn. School is not a game, yet so many of our students have learned to play the game of school very well when it comes to getting good grades.
The problem is that our system promotes compliance of learning behaviors equally to or even over the mastery of learning.
As educators, we can all think of the students who earned an “A” by diligently looking for every way they could earn the easier points on the 100-point scale. How many of those students would have the top grade if it was a measure of the degree to which they had mastered a skill according to a well-defined rubric?
As a principal, you can encourage your teachers to engage in the grading reform discussion in one of these social media communities: Teachers Going Gradeless (@TG2Chat), Teachers Throwing Out Grades (#TTOG) and Standards Based Learning and Grading (on Facebook).
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