I could continue writing posts about what is wrong with grading policies and practices because of just how destructive they can be. However, I think even in the few posts I have written in this series, it is obvious that the problems caused by traditional grading methods are deep and serious. Still, the videos below are two more compelling demonstrations of the negative effects that poor grading techniques have caused in our school system. Every teacher can relate.
It is only part of the case to identify the harmful practices that need to change. The other part of the case is to then provide solutions. So, let's start heading that direction.
But first, here are a few more articles that do a great job of spelling out some of the harm done by grading along with what can be done about it:
- "From Degrading to De-Grading" by Alfie Kohn (1999)
- "Leading to Change: Effective Grading Practices" by Douglas Reeves (2008)
- "Looking at Grading" by Steve Barkley (2013)
To me, I believe the whole issue of how you "fix" a broken grading system centers on the question of accountability. More than anything else I hear from teachers is the need to have a grading policy that "holds kids accountable." They seem to fear that a change in grading policy automatically means less accountability.
Whether that is true or not depends on one's view of accountability. The main consideration, in my opinion, is to and for what we want to hold students accountable.
Let's make this very simple. If we break down the word, then we realize that accountability is the "ability to give an account." Grading practices are usually not helpful in terms of providing any type of long-term motivation for non-academic factors, such as organization, participation, punctuality, attitude, and effort. These items are definitely worth our time to provide guidance, correction, and support, but they are best left outside of a grading system. If you are wanting to hold students accountable to these types of activities, then please don't skew all your data by using grades to accomplish that goal.
What we actually want students to be able to give an account for is their LEARNING!
The only way to know how accountable a student is in his or her learning is to first know the standard, or target, in the first place. Therefore, a prerequisite to an effective grading system is a clear learning target! Then, and only then, can a student be held accountable to their level of mastery according to where they are in relation to the expected or desired objective.
If we agree that learning is the thing for which we want to hold students accountable, then it becomes apparent that grades, as we know them, gotta go! What becomes just as clear is that we need to replace them with an effective feedback process, which is what we will look at next time.