Monday, January 9, 2012

Opting out of Grading

My daughter will be attending kindergarten next year and I'm starting to think about how I will support her in making school a place that will nurture and grow her natural intrinsic desire to go on learning.

Let me be clear, I'm as vocal of an advocate for public education as you'll find, but I understand with crystal clarity what Sir Ken Robinson was getting at when he asked the question Do Schools Kill Creativity? or why John Taylor Gatto wrote a book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction.

As an educator who abolished grading in 2004 and initiated a Grading Moratorium, I have an acute understanding for how grading sabotages learning. Because of this, I have drafted this sample letter that could be used as a guide for a face to face discussion with a teacher.
Dear teacher, 
Margaret loves to learn and is very excited to start school this year.  
Because the case against grades has a wealth of anecdotal evidence and scientific research, I am requesting that Margaret's assessments and evaluations only include formative comments. This means that Margaret's learning would never be reduced to a symbol (such as a number or letter). This includes individual assignments, quizzes, tests and her report card.
As a family that plays an active role in Margaret's learning, the best feedback we can receive about her learning is to see her learning. No reductionist data is required.
 If you are interested in learning more about the case against grades, I would be happy to provide you with these resources, and if your school's assessment and reporting policies make this request problematic, I would like the opportunity to discuss this further. Feel free to e-mail me.
I look forward to working with you to support Margaret's natural intrinsic desire to go on learning. 
Sincerely,

Here is an updated version of this post

68 comments:

  1. Joe

    Another great post. This is the main reason I switched my boys (a 1st grader and a 3rd grader) to a different school in my district. The school I moved them to has no letter grades, no textbooks, strong PLCs, no homework, engaging teachers, and lots of technology. Now it's not perfect, they use more of a Marzano style report card and I'm sure you would say that grading with 1s, 2s, 3s, and 3+ is still grading but I'm glad that my sons can at least explain to me what those numbers mean. It is certainly a step in the right direction. My boys love learning now more than ever.

    Good luck next year with your daughter in kindergarten. I have no doubt she will be just fine and you'll find the right way to support her and her school.

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    1. There is no way in hell I would allow my kid to attend a school that has no grades, books or homework. I'm curious where this school is at.

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  2. I'm currently trying to navigate all of this with my own son. It's been difficult to say, "Actually, I don't want him to get rewards or grades and I want to do my own home learning when he comes home from school." It helps that he's a "good" student, but it is still really challenging.

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    1. Does this mean you want to teach your kid your opinions and values...instead of letting him learn and grow on his own?

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  3. I played around with the same ideas as my son began kindergarten this past fall, however, as a teacher, I've seen waaaaay to many other teachers in the lounge complaining about what they deem to be "ridiculous parent requests." My fear became my son's teacher having a problem with my request and taking it out on him.

    I chose to talk with her instead of sending an email. In an email it's difficult to read tone and intent - I feared that the teacher would peg me as a problem and that would impact my son. Instead of sending an email, I talked to her in person about my beliefs. She was very receptive and eager to learn more.

    I've shared several things with her since, and she's reciprocated by sending some great articles my way. Let's hope the school is as receptive in a few years when I refuse to have him take the state tests.

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    1. If you want to teach, get your degree and teach. I am very glad your children are not in my school, or class. I will listen to parents requests, but they will not tell me how to teach. As far as the state testing, it's not the school, it's the government that forces that. If you don't like it, write yur congress person and let them know. I don't think gradesw are for students any way, they are for parents. I don't care what grade they get asw long as they understand the concept in Math. If they cannot read, then grades, or anything lese matters. They can't read it and understand it. Teaching and learning isn't all in the school, it is at home too. We have far to many mothers and fathers, and not enough parents.

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    2. I have a teaching assistant certificate and work in NY school as a substitute teacher I do not think a child is exempt from state exams unless they are incapable of understanding them. IE very low comprehension levels. I think even home school children must take them as thats why no child left behind can into effect.

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    3. As a teacher you should already know that your school funding is based on the test scores. If you refuse to allow your child to participate in these tests, he is counted as a failing grade. You are hurting your entire school district. The system we have is not perfect, I agree. But find a way to change things without jeopardizing all of the children in your community.

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    4. That's not true. A blank test does not count as a failing grade. At least in Connecticut there is a specific bubble that indicates whether a test was left blank or not. They have that because blank tests are not counted.

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    5. She didn't say she didn't want him to take the tests, she doesn't want it GRADED, I believe. Learn more about intrinsic motivation...you know, the kind that preschoolers have, where they WANT to know, WANT to find out, WANT to understand...and set about finding out for themselves, "learning for the information" until grade schools start giving out stickers, smiley faces and grades, then students start working for "stuff" instead of wanting to know. I now employ early childhood teachers...many of whom want to get paid, but don't REALLY want to work!!! Huuummm? I wonder where THAT attitude came from?

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  4. Minookatap makes a powerful point re tone and communication. Your use of the word 'never' seems to set up a conflict from day one, especially if you have no idea what the teacher's grading philosophy is. A possibility exists he/she holds a similar grading philosophy as yourself and by setting yourself up as an expert, rather than a partner, it could become an awkward dance with Kayley in the middle.

    There are 26 letters in the English language. If the class does an activity where Kayley identifies 23 of the 26 letters, your note seems to suggest that her teachers shouldn't mention, make note of, or even acknowledge the fact that her learning can be communicated using two numbers. Rather, they will have to perform linguistic gymnastics to communicate with you about her learning. I'm wondering if you could provide some examples to the teachers to understand what you mean. For example, what does it look like to communicate with you about her learning? If your only criteria for communication is to see her learning, should they be recording each moment of her day so that you can review the tapes? (Hyperbolic, yes but that's what will happen in the faculty room).

    What does formative feedback look for a child who can't read? Feedback is ultimately for the learner, not his or her parents, so what does it look like to give Kayley feedback that isn't reductionist? Let's say Kayley knocks it out of the park and the teacher gives her powerful, formative verbal feedback pointing out all of the great stuff she does and together, they talk about what Kayley needs to work on. At the end of the conference, the teacher uses a smiley face to indicate that this is work that Kayley did really well on. Is the sticker now a grade in your eyes? What you'll see is the sticker - what Kayley experienced was a conference. What does it look like to negotiate that tension?

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  5. I have been thinking about this a lot this year, thanks to the experiences of my own child. There are a lot of reasons for this that I won't bore you with at the moment, but one quick, simple example is his reading habits. My son can be a voracious reader, even at only 8 years old, and reads all the time: magazines, books, blogs, wikipedia, anything he is interested in. When reading became a grade, however, he stopped reading outside of the 100 minutes he was required to read by his teacher (for which I had to sign off). I finally decided to just sign off without timing him, so he could read when he wanted for fun. It has worked really well. I find him reading again, by his own choice (he has a good selection of video games, so I know he's chosen to read when he's doing it).

    This is helping me to reflect on my own classes and wonder what I can do to lesson the impact of grades on my students.

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  6. I would be terribly offended by receiving this communique by a parent. Not only are you saying you know better, but you offer some stuff to read to "educate" the teacher. I remember Jehovah's Witnesses doing that to my parents at their front door. They knew what was best for our family.

    I get all sorts of requests from parents all the time. Some of them are reasonable. You would not want a parent to tell you how to do your job either and therefore I believe this is unreasonable.

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  7. I appreciate your point but I would caution against using this letter how you have worded it. I agree with other comments that it sets you up as an adversary as opposed to a partner in the learning journey from day one. It also takes too extreme a stance on the whole point and a grade value such as 'A', 'B', 'C' or .../20, .../100 is a useful way of representing a child's process SO LONG as it is accompanied by the reasons the mark was not 'A' or 100/100. Extremist but thought-provoking so thanks,
    Anna

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  8. It's nice to play Devil's advocate once in a while but I'm confident that you wouldn't actually send this letter in to a school. If you REALLY wanted to share your views I think we all know that this would be best handled in a face to face meeting.
    Still, it's a nice post all the same.

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  9. I, too, struggle with the negative effects that our grading practices have on my children. Your post got me thinking, and inspired my own post in which I referenced you: http://teacherslifeforme.blogspot.com/2012/01/protecting-my-children-from-grading.html
    Thank you for continuing to make me question my own grading practices in my classroom.

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  10. Hey Joe - I am hoping that you will be pleasantly surprised but the primary teachers at your daughters' school... When I came from teaching high school to being a VP of an elementary school I spent a ton of time in primary classrooms and I was always inspired by the focus on verbal descriptive feedback and formative assessments. Very little learning, from m experience, is converted into numbers for kids. Report cards are still given but between them, there is so much great formative that I hope that your letter will be unnecessary. We can learn a ton from primary teachers. :-)

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  11. I adore this post!
    My daughter has been a Montessori student since Casa and is now in 6th grade there! It's magic!

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  12. ridiculous parent requests.......
    ridiculous teachers.......
    discuss:):)

    there's more than one way to skin a cat just as there's more than one way to learn
    and if someone doesn't want institutionalized learning for their child, that's their choice and more power to them. some of our greatest leaders, artists and other successful individuals never fit in at school or the 'box' but went on to achieve and thrive anyways...with the support of those that love them.
    no, i'm not a hippy or utopian,just someone who doesn't think there is one solution for all AND that schools are still based on an institution like premise and theory that is way, way out of date for today's world:)
    Of course this is just my opinion and believe and I value all the others also.
    And, most teachers are gifts and play a huge role in a child's development although they too are under a lot of pressure to do more with less and deal with a lot more social issues that affect the classroom.

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  13. Kudos! My son is only two years old, but I've already sent a version of your letter to every kindergarten teacher in school districts within a 35 mile radius.

    Any teacher touting this letter as 'unreasonable' must have an inherent superiority complex. Aren't we as educators meant to be lifelong learners? And if we aren't, should we not consider a new profession?

    With the exponentially decreasing amount of value that families in my community place in education, I would welcome any parent who placed as much time into their child's education as you do. Even if there is disagreement, that's OK. Part of being an adult is the ability to openly communicate your beliefs and ultimately come to compromises or new beliefs. Isn't that what we teach our children?

    I personally think the e-mail is a great way to begin this conversation. If the teacher wants to discuss this further, they can contact you. As a teacher, I value electronic communication for the sole purpose that it saves time. Once I assess the intended purpose of the e-mail, I decide whether further communication is necessary.

    I would hope that any educator would put their ego behind them and welcome any chance to learn and to further serve their community with open arms.

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    1. Now YOU sound like the religious nutbars who were intent on converting my "heathen" parents as they simply hadn't seen the light yet.

      Discounting other research and evidence and insulting teachers who do not agree with you (superiority complex?) is perhaps the least most helpful way to work with them.

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  14. I forwarded this on to the principal at my daughters' elementary school. It was the perfect response to the report card I just got. It is two pages of expected skills acquisition for the 1st grade. The scores are based on where they expect them to be in June, so basically score them low so that the teacher can document progress. There are two lines of "personal narrative" included...aka the teacher chose two codes and the information system plugged the lines onto the report card. Absurd and useless.

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  15. This is no longer a school/parents issue. The push to turn people into an objective, quantifiable measure is being pushed by councils,think tanks,self-proclaimed education reformers. A lot of money is at stake, and in order to send it in the "right" direction intricate designs based on data (like the derivitives formulas that made some very clever people very rich) have to be implemented. A philosophy of education (what is included,it's purpose/desired outcomes,what should be valued)is also at stake. In order to control the philosophy so the power and money go in the "right" direction,political power will be used to take power away from people who could provide alternatives (like more comprehensive measures of achievement).

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  16. Honestly, do you truly believe that the type of assessment is up to the teacher? Teachers are bound by state and local district requirements in the public school system. If you wish your child to be assessed in a different manner, you have a few options:
    (1) move your child to a private school that does not assess grades,
    (2) run for a position on the district school board
    (3) petition your state's governor to change the assessment methods.
    Making the teacher out to be the bad guy does not help the education system or your child. If you don't like the way things are done, work to change the things you do not like.

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    1. Thank you for pointing out what should be obvious, but isn't. I'm tired of teachers getting the flack for everything in education. We are the lowest on the totem pole, and we are rarely heard when we disagree with a policy. We do what we are told, and we aren't always happy about it. Although I am not in favor of grading primary students, I believe grades are somewhat necessary for a parent to know where there child is developmentally.

      I wish more parents would be politically active, or at least learn what's going on in their own state and county.

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  17. Mrs. Whatley,

    If I made it sound like my intent was to target or blame the teacher, then I apologize. My intentions here are to play an active role in my children's education. The latin root for assessment is "assidere" which means "to sit beside". The culture of public education has been hijacked by quantifiable data in the form of testsandgrades. I wish to ensure that my children are focused on learning and less on the grades.

    I believe that the first contact for any conversation about the classroom should start with the teacher. I would never go over the teacher's head to talk to an administrator without first speaking to the teacher first. I know that as a teacher this is what I have come to expect as common courtesy.

    But if there were things that were out of the teacher's control, then I would make the teacher aware that I would speak to their administrator or superintendent.

    In Alberta, we have not yet succumbed to much of the madness that has engulfed American Public Education. Teachers are very well respected here and for the most part have a lot of professional autonomy. This means that teachers, especially in the elementary and middle school (less so in high school), are in charge of how they teach and how they assess.

    Testsandgrades is the monster that is eating public education. If a family's only choice is to either succumb to this monster or leave the system, then the system no longer serves its purpose.

    Like democracy, public education is reserved only for those who are willing to fight for it. This is my way of fighting back.

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    1. I am a teacher. I wanted to be involved in my children's education. I was. I took time off work and home-schooled them. I get what you're saying, but we, as teachers, have very little control over how we report grades. At the high school level, we do not have the option of changing the grading system dramatically if our students hope to join higher education communities. We are required to report grades and percentages. Teachers can, however, make clear what a grade means. Some of my grades are simply numbers one through six. Four and above will convert to passing grades. Three and below need work and will be accepted again and again, with help from the teacher, until students have learned the information well enough to pass. We often have discussions about how to jump from a three to a four -- there are some very specific requirements. Highest grade is final grade. Simply put, students can attain any level they choose, and I will be here to help them do that. Numbers, letters, standard types of communication are here to stay because they are mandated by higher powers in the government and other institutions. However, those numbers need not be amorphous judgments of a students ability or character.

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    2. I am a teacher. I wanted to be involved in my children's education. I was. I took time off work and home-schooled them. I get what you're saying, but we, as teachers, have very little control over how we report grades. At the high school level, we do not have the option of changing the grading system dramatically if our students hope to join higher education communities. We are required to report grades and percentages. Teachers can, however, make clear what a grade means. Some of my grades are simply numbers one through six. Four and above will convert to passing grades. Three and below need work and will be accepted again and again, with help from the teacher, until students have learned the information well enough to pass. We often have discussions about how to jump from a three to a four -- there are some very specific requirements. Highest grade is final grade. Simply put, students can attain any level they choose, and I will be here to help them do that. Numbers, letters, standard types of communication are here to stay because they are mandated by higher powers in the government and other institutions. However, those numbers need not be amorphous judgments of a students ability or character.

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  18. Why not simply ask that your child not see any letter/number grades? Who cares about what they send as a report card?

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  19. I say this parent should home school their kid.

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  20. This sounds a lot like what we do in Montessori Education. This parent should not home school thier child. There are many educational options that should be avaliable to this parent and child. Many states are now offering such choices. South Carolina being one of them.

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  21. What does it say about the state of public education if opting out of testsandgrades means you are no longer welcome to be a part of public education?

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    1. this letter would be received as many have said... in a bad light. As a teacher in the public school system, yes we would all like to move away from the test and grade system and in many ways we are. My district has moved to more PBL and alternative assessments and I have taken it further in my class. Grades should reflect progress and nothing more.
      We also chose to homeschool our son 5 years ago after a very bad experience in the public schools. I would say that you have to do what is right for your child. And only you know that.

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    2. Wow. Ok. Playing devil's advocate here... If I want to be an electrician, but I don't believe in the test or in the scores assigned to the test, can I still become a licensed electrician? Will I be welcomed into the profession? Just saying... While I agree in principle with ideas about eliminating grading, I realize that some standard measure will always exist as a benchmark against which we compare our students' performance.

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  22. I will be informing my children's school that my kids will not take any test that is used to evaluate a teacher.

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    1. Why? This will only hurt the teacher.

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  23. 1. She's in kindergarten. There are no standardized tests.

    2. In Alberta standardized tests have no affect on funding.

    3. She's in kindergarten and she's 5. How does opting out of testsandgrades jeopardize the school or community?

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  24. Parents have never been, and still aren't in most schools, considered true partners in the education of our children. The school system and those who work in it do not easily give up the control they have of our children. When parents make a reasonable request such as this one opting out of grades, many teachers and administrators react with unbridled outrage, not at the request itself, but at the threat they feel toward their control and authority.

    Parents are supposed to be the fundraisers, the volunteers and the cheerleaders of undying support no matter the issue. Parents are not supposed to have ideas of their own about how their children should be educated and they certainly aren't supposed to challenge the "way we do things here."

    Joe, opting out of tests and grades doesn't jeopardize anything other than the misguided and overinflated sense of control many teachers relish in their classrooms.

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    1. I completely disagree with your statement. You are blaming teachers/administrators for wanting control of your child. You are forgetting that their are state standards and state enforced curriculum that your child has to learn if in a public school. What you see as the school wanting control of your child, is the school enforcing state policy. The majority of states nowadays have a graduation test, a test students have to pass in order to graduate. Students cannot "opt out" of this test, unless they want a lesser diploma. My state is now tying my teacher evaluation to how your kid does on that test. So yes, I'm going to require my students to test and have grades on their test, so that they can be prepared for the state test they are required to pass.

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    2. Chris, we're talking about a 5 year old child, not an 18 year old young adult. She's in kindergarten, not high school. And thank goodness there is no graduation test required yet of kindergarten students to pass into first grade. I fear, however, that test is coming soon.

      Control of students is a very large part of school.
      Many teachers choose to exert their control over the children we send to them in both large and small ways without ever involving parents or students in those decisions.

      For example, teachers attempt to control student behavior with intricately designed behavior management charts, token economies and stickers. Rules are designed without an ounce of student input and rewards and punishments are doled out without ever discussing them with parents or the children these rules affect.

      Teachers tell children in explicit detail when they can or cannot use the bathroom, have a drink of water, eat, move around or speak despite the fact that all students have different timing and needs.

      Teachers try to control children's bodies when they insist children sit criss-cross applesauce, fold their hands in their laps, and walk in silent, single-file lines. Many teachers demand blind obedience and uncompromising compliance from children without ever asking parents or children what works best for them.

      Teachers tell children what to learn, when to learn it and often, how to learn it. And if a child does not comply, they are labeled slow or disobedient or worse.

      Yes, state standards and curriculum mandate certain things in the classroom, but doing harmful things to young children now in order to prepare them for more harmful things in the future is senseless at best and just plain cruel. It is a sure-fire way of killing a child's love of learning -- something Joe Bower is hoping to prevent for his daughter.



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    3. Let me get this straight. I am supposed to let every student leave the room to visit the rest room, get a drink of water and get a bite to eat whenever they feel the need. While also letting them wander the room when the feel the need and speak whenever they choose. And what of the students who are completely distracted by all this movement and talking? They have a right to learn in their best way as well. And what of the students who have no love of learning? How do I TRY to instill a love of learning while students are coming and going as they wish, wandering around the room and talking when ever and to whomever they wish? Not to mention, how and when do I TEACH while keeping everyone accounted for? Making sure no one is fighting in the restroom? Making sure all students are accounted for? Making sure that the students who leave the room actually return? And if not, where are they? Did they go to the rest room, office, leave the building, go for some McDonalds, go home? get hit by a car crossing the street?
      God help the teacher who tries to pull this with my son as a student. Because I WILL hold you responsible if anything happens to him while you let all the little lovelies do as they wish.

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    4. The opposite of control and compliance does not have to be chaos. It can be cooperation and collaboration.

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    5. THANK YOU, Julie!! Well said.

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    6. OK-You can label me "old-school" or authoritative, but I agree 100% with "anonymous" in her assessment of the prior post about allowing children to have freedoms, etc. In my classroom my students know the reasons for the rules that we adhere to as a class. The majority of classrooms you visit will more than likely have some version of a "class" or "social" contract for addressing rules and expectations, and my classroom is no exception. Our class worked together to create our contract of social behaviors, and the kids took ownership of those. With that being said, there are certain non-negotiables. We walk quietly and in a single-file line in the hallways, when the teacher or another student is talking we are quiet and respectful, we ask permission to go to the restroom, and the list of my "controlling" actions just goes on and on. There are reasons these are non-negotiables, with the first being safety. If there were a fire, or an emergency, my class would need to quickly and quietly get out. If they were just running (or walking) wherever their "bodies" needed at that time, then they could not hear the instructions to leave. Also, we as educators are not simply inflicting our authority and control over kids in order to feel some sense of "superiority," we are also attempting to teach these kids how the real world works. Sometimes you have to stay still when you just want to bounce up and down. Sometimes we can't visit with our friends when we want to. They will all have bosses one day, and if we as educators have not taught them about the appropriate way to behave in different situations (ex: we can run and yell at recess or in PE, but we are quiet in the Library) then we have not done our whole job. We don't just teach them to read and write, we teach them how to be citizens in the real world, where sometimes you just have to "hold it" until you are able to take a break. Lord knows I can't just run to the potty each time I have to pee.

      And before anyone attacks me by saying that the parent should teach these kids about the real world, well what do you suggest when the majority of your kids live with a single parent, or grandparent, or with multiple families under one roof, or a parent is in jail, the list goes on and on? What then when you as the teacher are that child's stability and only adult role model? Should we not ensure that we show them discipline with love, just like our own kids? I know I make my own children do things they may not "want" to do, but they do it. Like the dishes, or that you can't leave your dirty clothes all over the house, and I look at my students in the exact same light.

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  25. What remarkably refreshing comment. Thank you for putting this so well.

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  26. Well if I received this letter, I would ask for a meeting. Then, I would explain that in public education today, in my classroom, school and district we give formative assessments and formative, objective feedback. We are required by the district to say if your child has gone beyond the expectation for a standard (4 or A) met the standard (3 or B) marginally met the standard (2 or C) etc. All the formative assessments are to inform the teacher and learner of their progress towards mastery as well as drive instruction.
    If all my students had parents who cared enough to say "This is how you will perform your duties and if you don't like it, I'll be seeing your supervisor." (Yes, the letter is very "you are an ignorant teacher") then this would be a moot point. But when 60% of your students and or parents could care less? For too many the fear of earning a failing grade is the only motivation they have. I teach 151 students a day. What if just 10 decided how their child was to be graded/not graded/promoted/not promoted? Sorry, logistically not possible. So my answer, again after explaining all the formative everything we (student and I) do, you will need to take this up with district personnel.

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  27. Replies
    1. I know this is hard for some parents to hear, but while your child is the center of your universe they are not the actual center of the universe. There are 30 other students in the room. Why are you sending her to school? She is self motivated and has an intrinsic love of learning. And you are obviously the only intelligent teacher you know, so teach her yourself.
      There are just as many studies and research projects to support a myriad of 'the next best thing in education.'

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  28. I see this as just another attempt at the "wussification" of America. "Oh I don't want my daughter's feelings to be hurt by a bad grade." Not what you said exactly...but your implying that a poor grade will discourage her from learning. This is where your role as a parent comes into play, where you teach her the responsibility of learning from her mistakes and fixing them. I understand that she will be in Kindgergarten..how much grading REALLY happens in kindergarten?? I honestly don't know, I teach high school. Would you push for this same treatment in high school??

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  29. The absence of grades is necessary, but not sufficient, in allowing children to think for themselves. It's kind of ironic that you are suggesting the opposite

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    1. I have been graded all my life...and I did a pretty awesome job of thinking for myself.

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  30. Other than what you experienced in school how much of the research have you read on homework and grading?

    You might be surprised...

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  31. In Alberta blank tests are not differentiated from tests that were written http://www.joebower.org/2012/06/pressuring-children-to-write-provincial.html

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  32. You are Canadian...this makes more sense now

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  33. Grades never hurt me http://www.joebower.org/2010/12/grades-never-hurt-me.html

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    1. again an igrnorant response.

      I would think that a quality teacher can teach students to self assess, while still supplying them with a grade. Maybe in elementary grades are less cut and dry. In math and to an extent science...there is a right answer and a wrong answer. If you got a bad grade, that means that you did not have the right answer or have any idea how to get to that answer and you need to seek help.

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    2. I am a middle school science teacher. O know that science is best taught using inquiry based hands-on lessons. And while I do ~gasp~ let students drive our classroom rules and consequences, there is no way to support having every student study what they choose. It would be fabulous if Shaniq'ka wanted to learn about limiting factors in a chemical reaction, and Trevor wanted to learn about body systems through fetal pig dissections, and Anmol wanted to learn about the physics of airplanes vs automobiles by attempting to construct her own versions of each. The logistics of 30 students with different reading levels, math abilities, maturity and intelligence levels each studying how and what they choose would be a nightmare at best. And don't forget, we have 5 classes of 30. 150 individually prepared lesson plans. How would you order resources alone? Put a cap of 5 on the number of students allowed per class and you still have 25 lessons to prepare for, purchase resources for and evaluate with feedback that drives the next days lessons. Every night 25 new lessons. Like we don't have enough great teachers leaving the profession due to unacceptable working conditions.

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  34. As a parent of two daughter in their 20's who got grades all through school, I think they turned out pretty good. Both are college graduates (one with a Masters degree), both have very good jobs, and are quite happy in their lives. Grades are just one tool to help parents understand their child's progress in school. Having a child receive grades does not mean he/she cannot think for themselves. Grades are only one aspect in a child's education.

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  35. The beauty of science is that it should be about discovering what we don't know and yet you sell it as a fixed reality that we've already patented. That's sad.

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  36. False dchotomies make choosing easy. If you frame our only two choices as anarchy or dictatorship, I might even lean towards dictatorship. The good news, however, is that there is a third option that you have not mentioned and that would be democracy.

    Classrooms should be democratic learning communities that balance personal interests with the needs of the community.

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  37. I have taught for years with a "no hands" rule. Together as a class we figure out how to manage a classroom discussion without relying on the teacher to monitor and manage the discussion. This way the class has a whole group discussion without having to go through the teacher. They can actually engage fluently.

    It's not easy but it's so worth the effort.

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  38. Testsandgrades are not like death & taxes. They do not have to be inevitable unless we succumb to our own apathy & cynicism.

    Testsandgrades will continue to enslave us until good people stand up and refuse their cooperation.

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  39. Ahhh, Joe. YOU are the guide on the side, and not the sage on the stage - teacher! Kuddo's to you. So many teachers in the teaching profession, NEED control! And a LOT of it! As a matter of fact, they get off on it. When you can provide opportunities to learn and grow instead of commanding all knowledge...you encourage students to THINK. And THINKERS are what our businesses and companies are begging for in our real world...Thinkers, with Creative Minds who can problem solve and collaborate in the working world ~ NOT robots. AND they ARE complaining about "too many robots" and are RETRAINING educated employees who didn't have a Joe Bower!!

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  40. Would you mind pointing out which part of my letter is offensive to teachers?

    It's true that early in my career, I would have been unsure how to respond to such a letter, after all I had never even considered what school might look like without grading. Heck, I might have even been upset, like you, to even receive such a letter. But just because I would have been upset or that you are offended doesn't make us right.

    I would imagine that back in the day had a parent wrote a letter to the teacher requesting that their children not receive corporal punishment they would have been considered "nutbars". But thankfully things change.

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  41. As a parent I completely agree with this form of learning...opting out of grading promotes learning for knowledge not for a test. As a teacher I think that giving more positive feedback will help children in the long run and encourage learning more. It seems like a true Vygotskian approach to learning in which the students learn through mediation and scaffolding and feedback instead of just teaching them a unit and giving a test and then giving a grade. I will definitely have to do more research on this topic to become more knowledgeable but that you for opening the door for me.

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  42. Joe, in your sample letter you declare that the case against grades is supported by "a wealth of anecdotal evidence and scientific research."

    I was wondering if you could actually direct me to some of this research. I am unaware of any conclusive controlled testing which supports the abandonment of summative evaluation altogether. I am referring to real research, not the citing of someone else's unresearched opinions. I mean a studies of statistically signifcant groups in real classroom settings, research which effectively controls other factors and isolates summative evaluation and formative evaluation. Can you direct me to actual controlled research which supports such a conclusion?

    I congratulate you on your obvious commitment to your students. I congratulate you for seeking a better way to educate those students. I have no doubt that your efforts are beneficial to the children whom you teach. However, it seems to me that you exaggerate the case for eliminating summative evaluation. Can you say that you know that any educator who employs any summative evaluation in their evaluation strategy is destroying his/her student's intrinsic desire to learn? Are you really saying that educators who still use summative evaluation can not instill a love of learning in students?

    While I would wholeheartedly agree that summative grades (especially when applied to younger students) are often (usually?) of questionable value, it is the individual talents of the teacher, their entusiasm, their dedication and their ability to motivate and inspire students which is important. Good teachers find a way to do those things, grades or no grades. Good teachers have always used formative evaluation and feedback. It is just good practice.

    If you are enjoying success in educating your students using strictly formative evaluation, then I congratulate you. But in the absence of any real hard research, I think it is wrong for you to condemn educators who continue to emply both formative and summative evaluation.

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  43. Some research:

    Case Against Grades: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm

    Grades & the Fear of Failure: http://www.joebower.org/2011/12/grades-and-fear-of-failure.html

    Grading & Commenting: http://www.joebower.org/2011/11/grading-commenting.html

    Learning vs Grade Oriented Learners: http://www.joebower.org/2010/08/learning-oriented-learners.html

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  44. I am teaching with a lady who is keeping grade quick for first grade. She gives then scores like 82.06%. Unreal! I like to keep checklists and comments. Thanks for your posts!

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