Why don’t we get rid of grades?

So here is an idea, and I will admit this is a radical and potentially game-changing idea for teachers, but…

Why don’t we get rid of grades?!?

I know what you are going to say, “We can’t actually get rid of grades, because our students have to leave here to go to college and they need their GPA’s.”

So I will respond with, “But why don’t we simply have student “grades” that are similar to check plus, check, check minus, and not acceptable and then have the traditional numerical grades for colleges and other schools. In this fashion, the students would receive the grades that they (and their parents and their colleges) hold dear, but we can simply focus on the understanding and mastery of our courses.

As a teacher the convention of “grades” and “giving” grades as assessments has always been a thorn in my side. (Read my full rant about the Meaning of Grades here.) Now don’t’ get me wrong, I believe totally that the ideal purpose for grades and the original intent for them is fine – a clear delineation of material mastered by an individual. My major problem these days is that my students don’t seem to believe the same. Almost every student that I have simply wants to get the “grade,” as if that is the most important thing and that the associated learning is totally secondary.

As a teacher who believes totally that learning goes far beyond school and “grades”, I would love to help my students return to an understanding of what Exceptional Work really is and the incontrovertible fact that not everyone can do it. I would love to get back to the idea that while yes it is true that everyone can do everything – we cannot do it equally.  I have no desire to tell students what they can and cannot do, but I wonder, are we really preparing them for the “real world” by telling them that they are all perfect and that if you work hard enough “everyone can make an A?”

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3 Responses to Why don’t we get rid of grades?

  1. DaveOstroff says:

    Thanks for your comment, Chris. I hear you when you write that students seem to have the “notion that everyone is entitled to an ‘A'”… I wonder if we’d have an easier time reminding students and parents what our grading system means – and holding students accountable – if we could develop some common understandings as a faculty; as departments; as grade-level teams??

  2. Chris S says:

    I agree with the end, but disagree with the means. You write:

    “As a teacher who believes totally that learning goes far beyond school and ‘grades,’ I would love to help my students return to an understanding of what Exceptional Work really is and the incontrovertible fact that not everyone can do it.”

    Here’s my take: as a teacher who believes that exceptional work is the exception, and that not everyone will do it, and who cares about maintaining high standards that separate the exceptional from the merely adequate, I am happy to hold on to the traditional system of assigning grades. An “A” means exceptional work, and my students know that. If any of them are holding on to the recent notion that everyone is entitled to an “A,” my grading procedures quickly disabuse them of that error.

    A check or check-plus would just be a new name; the substance of the teacher’s evaluation would be the same, as would the students’ misperceptions. Instead of creating a new system, I say we remind students, parents, and each other what the old system is for.

  3. DaveOstroff says:

    … plenty to comment on here, Adam – thanks for your thoughtful post! First, I’d push back against the notion that teachers “give” grades. Rather, I’d suggest that teachers establish clear expectations – often in the form of rubrics – and then work to help students earn grades. When students complain that teachers are “giving” grades, are they really saying they don’t have a clear understanding of teachers’ expectations and how to meet them?

    And also, I view students’ grades as a healthy blend of a variety of assessment types: 1) teachers evaluate students’ achievement and levels of mastery (many in education might label these ‘summative assessments’); 2) some assessments might fall into a ‘formative’ category instead – and help to measure how far along a student is in her learning process; and 3) some assessments might fit into a category I call ‘daily work’ – designed to measure students day-to-day effort in the course, these assessments are designed to create incentive for students to develop the habits and skills of good scholarship that will serve them well throughout their life-long paths as learners. Should the ‘mix’ of assessments that make up each student’s grade vary from teacher to teacher / department to department? … or can we agree on a set of common assumptions and set divisional policies?

    And lastly, I’m with you on the notion of holding out exceptional marks for exceptional work – in college, for example, exceptional work earned a written ‘citation’ from a professor. Perhaps we reserve the “A+” for work that is truly exceptional?

    Lots to discuss!!

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