Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Grades - good or evil?

Recently, I had the chance to drop by an education blog where the topic of discussion was whether grades can ever be good or, at least, what was our perspective on grades.

To be honest, I went into a bit of a tie-raid about grades and rubrics but in the end, I think I summed it up retty well. I will admit to having trouble with the blog's comment window in that it didn't seem to want me to use paragraphs but, meh!

Not wanting my well-earned high blood pressure to go to waste, I decided to repost the comment here. Of course, please feel free to comment and give me your perspective...

"Well, this is certainly going to be an interesting discussion!

I believe, that the only useful assessment is formative assessment by teachers during a unit of work, and indeed, diagnostic formative assessment before a unit. In our school, we are in the process of eliminating grades.

This does not mean that parents and children have not been conditioned to feel a need to determine a child's position vis-à-vis their classmates. At least, that is their view of it. Grades, whether we like it or not, determine a "pecking" order in the class which some need to see because it gives them comfort.

In my mind, the reality is such that, no two teachers, despite hours of moderation, will assign grades which mean the same thing across the board and across all classes and units of work. We are human after all, and as a result, variation is bound to exist. One problem is, that parents and those who seek "objective" results, fail to see the degree of subjectivity involved when any grade is assigned.

Therefore, for a whole host of reasons our school has moved to using rubrics which clearly define what is required in any particular piece of work. Each column clearly identifies what the pupils have done correctly and what they need to improve on. Contrary to what many may expect, the rubrics have absolutely no numerical or letter grades attached to them. One of the other benefits of having rubrics is that it gives the teacher the opportunity to clearly define, throughout the task, with the children - either individually or in small groups - the exact requirements of the task. The rubric, then becomes a roadmap for the children to help them remember and identify what they have to do to self-assess and metacognitively determine their progress toward the stated learning objective and success criteria.

So, my feeling on grading is that, the belief that grades indicate an unequivocal statement of a child's progress is deeply flawed because of the huge numbers of variables which can tend to influence the result and those who seek specific grades often do not recognise the variables involved or underestimate their importance.

Thankfully, some people I deal with tend to be more concerned with knowing what their child can and can not do and want to know how to help them meet those challenges rather than being overly concerned with numerical labels and where their child is in a class.

Finally, we need to keep in mind the fact that context plays a huge role in the importance of grades to students and their parents. When I use the rubrics, there is no need for grades because the student knows how they are doing and so do I because they have been formatively assessed throughout the task.


Shelly Terrell said...

I really enjoyed your points! I do believe grades are an unnecessary evil and do not reflect objectivity or truly reflect the progress a student has made.

Joe Bower said...

Thanks for sharing. I would love to see a copy of the rubric you spoke of. Could you send me what it looks like?

joe dot bower dot teacher (at) gmail dot com

Alfonso Gonzalez said...

I totally agree with you! It's sad though that we have to give any marks whatsoever. Have you read Alfie Kohn's article on the Trouble with Rubrics? Even rubrics are harmful and most students and parents will still focus on the number. My school isn't anywhere near abolishing grades, but I'm going to try it. Of course, I still need some measure of how my students are doing at any given point for midterm and end of term "grading" so I will just use the Power Standards I've identified and let parents know whether the student knows the standard or not. But even my narrative on each standard can be reduced to a number or a letter grade! I'm going ask parents and students to try their darndest to avoid doing that! :o) We'll see how it goes.

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