Saturday, February 27, 2010

Destructive Grading Schemes

Teachers have what seems like an infinite number of assessment schemes at their disposal, and unfortunately most of these schemes revolve more around managing grades than encouraging learning.

Today, I wish to debunk a certain kind of scheme. Have you ever heard of a teacher who subscribes to this kind of assessment practice?

Good morning class and welcome to the first day of the school year. I want to share with you how you can do well in my class. It's easy. Each one of you comes here as an A student. If you want to stay an A student, you are going to have to work hard. In fact, you are going to have to work very hard. I don't give away grades frivolously. My high expectations of you will ensure that I am a caring ally in your pursuit of life-long education. So let's get started!
On the surface, this teacher may sound like he really cares about the kids. It sure sounds like he believes in the kids. He even says that everyone is an A student. Isn't that nice?

Well, actually, it's not.

What are the chances that even if every single student did in fact work really hard that the teacher would still label every student an A student?

I'm pretty confident that you find the prospect of this teacher having a class average of an A as pretty laughable.

So I would suspect this is really what the teacher is saying when he introduces this kind of assessment scheme:

Good morning class and welcome to the first day of the school year. I want to share with you how poorly you will do in my class. It's easy. Each one of you comes here as an A student. And as the year progresses it is inevitable that you will each fall a little or a lot from such a unrealistic stature. If you want to stay an A student, I wish you good luck because the odds of you each retaining such a grade are not good. You can try and work hard, but the law of averages says that the grades will be distributed in a kind of predetermined manner. I don't give away grades frivolously because I ensure that we achieve a kind of 'acceptable' distribution. So as the year goes on, you will see me less as a caring ally in your journey towards life-long learning, but rather as an observer of your gradual degradation. So let's get started!
Like all assessment schemes that revolve around grading, we become ultimately distracted from our primary goal - LEARNING. We fabricate these extrinsic manipulators to bully kids into learning.

Once we stop and rethink what we are actually saying to kids, I think we can start to properly engage in progressive educational reform. And I believe one of the first steps involves teachers and parents understanding why we must abolish grades.

For more on abolishing grading, check out this page.

3 comments:

  1. You've got my vote! But not everyone's.

    I remember sitting in an educational psychology course my first year of college. I went to a school without grades or majors, and sat beside another student from my school -- we both were taking this course at a neighboring college, one with grades and things like "with honors" attached to your degree.

    The professor had us read an article that questioned grades, and we two thought the reading was laughably easy to agree with. Coming from a school without them and perfectly happy leaving them behind, we were easily won over.

    Imagine our surprise when the class that day involved us and maybe one or two sympathizers, all against 40+ students getting passionately angry at the very idea that grades would be abolished. "We NEED grades!" some others insisted. One girl was near tears.

    Back to the present day ... I would love to get my "planning" period back, as it is mostly spent dealing with grades, grading, updating other staff people of a student's current grade, calling parents because their kid's grade is slipping, etc.

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  2. "We fabricate these extrinsic manipulators to bully kids into learning. "
    Wow. That's hard to swallow, but it is true.

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  3. Sometimes the truth cuts like a knife.

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