Author Topic: To Grade or not to Grade?  (Read 763 times)

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Offline median

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To Grade or not to Grade?
« on: March 14, 2014, 12:12:37 AM »
I realize this is perhaps more of a political question (for some), but for me it is not. I am reading the article below and would like some feedback in considering the question: Should we continue to use the old grading systems in schools (A,B,C,D,F etc) or is there a better way?[1]

http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm

What say you and why?
 1. For those who don't know, I am a teacher (as well as a student) and educate K-8.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan

Offline Willie

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2014, 03:58:48 AM »
The author makes some good points, but I'm only partly convinced. Schools serve two primary functions. One is to teach, the other is to assess. Pretty much everyone can agree with that, but there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about where the balance should be between these two functions. Mr. Kohn seems to think that it is tilted too heavily towards assessment, and needs to focus more on teaching. Mr. Kohn acknowledges the need for assessment, and mentions replacing grading with "more informative (and less destructive) systems of assessment", but is somewhat fuzzy about what that entails. The most descriptive paragraph about that is this:

Quote
Anyone who has heard the term “authentic assessment” knows that abolishing grades doesn’t mean eliminating the process of gathering information about student performance – and communicating that information to students and parents.  Rather, abolishing grades opens up possibilities that are far more meaningful and constructive.  These include narratives (written comments), portfolios (carefully chosen collections of students’ writings and projects that demonstrate their interests, achievement, and improvement over time),  student-led parent-teacher conferences, exhibitions and other opportunities for students to show what they can do.

That all sounds highly subjective to me, and therefore very much subject to some of the author's own objections to grading. At one point the author says:

Quote
4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective.  A “B” in English says nothing about what a student can do, what she understands, where she needs help.  Moreover, the basis for that grade is as subjective as the result is uninformative.  A teacher can meticulously record scores for one test or assignment after another, eventually calculating averages down to a hundredth of a percentage point, but that doesn’t change the arbitrariness of each of these individual marks.  Even the score on a math test is largely a reflection of how the test was written:  what skills the teacher decided to assess, what kinds of questions happened to be left out, and how many points each section was “worth.”

That strikes me as a valid concern, but I don't see how assessments that consist of narratives, portfolios, conferences and exhibitions would do anything at all it improve that. It seems, if anything, an even less consistent and less objective approach. And his first sentence in that paragraph strikes me as entirely disingenuous. Of course an overall grade of "B" in English reveals little about specific areas in which a student excels or needs work. But that doesn't mean that grading papers is useless. The grades on individual assignments and tests do, in fact, reveal specific strengths and weaknesses. If anything, this should argue for more and finer-grained grading, not less.

I'll concede that, despite my objections, Mr. Kohn does make some compelling arguments. His approach may be the right one for some students and some subjects. But not everyone has the same learning style, and even for an individual, different subjects (math and english, for example) can invoke very different modes of learning, and may be suited to very different kinds of assessment. For those who tend to be strong self-learners in a subject, classrooms and teachers, even good teachers, can end up being more of a hindrance than a help. In such cases, the school's assessor role becomes more important than its teaching role.


Offline Mooby

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2014, 09:57:56 AM »
I'm all for getting rid of grades, but how would we make this work in our infrastructure?  Colleges use grades and test scores to stratify applicants and award grants.  Postgraduate certifications all use test grades (lawyers have bar exams, pharmacists have boards, etc.)  Sure, we could replace those all with a multifaceted evaluation of each student, but how practical would that be?

I'm no educator, so maybe there's a solution I'm not familiar with.  What are your insights as a teacher?

And I assume there is some mechanism to encourage more laid back students to work when not under the pressure from grades?
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2014, 11:09:50 AM »
As with most every other social norm today, it is time to start experimenting with other ideas.

Certainly we need to know how well the students are doing, both for their sake and to confirm the efficacy of the curriculum.

But to limit our assessment to numbers, and convert those numbers to letters, and generically imagine that we know what they mean, is a little too short-sighted to be useful.

We need to first keep in mind that the original purpose of the public school system was to churn out workers for the many jobs in the economy, and the schools were supposed to help us pick out the future managers, as well as the future line workers and janitors. But now that we've shipped all of our line work to China and have nothing for the janitors to sweep up, and we stopped needing middle-managers a couple of decades ago, it is high time to take another approach.

When i drive down the highway, I have a speedometer to tell me how fast I'm going. It is a feedback device. If the speed limit is 70, and I'm going 80, I can either slow down or understand that I may get a ticket, but that feedback is both constant and alterable. The speedometer is "grading" my speed, and I have more than enough information to decide if I want to be legal, go too fast or be an old man and piss everyone off by going slow. But the feedback is useful, no matter what I do with it.

In school, getting a C at the end of my first algebra class says that I learned about 75% of what I needed to learn. It doesn't give specifics about what I didn't learn, and since I didn't learn it, it may well be that I don't know much about that I don't know. And I am not given a realistic chance to fix the knowledge gap my C says I have. So while going in to my very first algebra class knowing nothing about algebra is normal, going into algebra II with an incomplete knowledge of introductory algebra dooms me to having problems with the subject forever. The feedback I get from my C useless on a practical level. The disinterest in trying again to give me A level knowledge shown by the education system at that point, in general, is zero. So unless I am super-motivated (unlikely among C students), I'm doomed to be an unemployed line worker rather than an unemployed middle manager. And that's just in the sixth grade.

And by the way, I may have learned even less than 75% if I was graded on a curve. So even that C is minimally informative to anyone who doesn't know the details of how I was graded.

Toss is teachers who don't know the answers either, administrators too busy dealing with myriad federal requirements as they try to find ways to sneak creationist "science" into the classroom (sorry, I'm in a snarky mood) and other realities, and what we have is a broken system. And it is broke inside of a broken economic system, which is broken inside a broken political system. Which is broken inside a broken environment and a broken world.

The only advantage of the current grading system is that most of the kids can spell their grades correctly. But that is far from the only shortcoming of the system, and merely fixing one thing will not solve the problem.

There are many ostensibly successful educational methods being used in private schools and such, but they may not be adoptable in the public system because of resource limits and other issues. But if we don't do anything about education in general, the only value of schools will be as babysitters, which was probably their original purpose anyway.
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Offline wheels5894

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2014, 02:56:18 PM »
I'm from the Uk where the government is obsessed with testing. Now I see nothing wrong with testing sometimes to see how pupils are doing but constant testing means that proper learning isn't taking place. Like the article describes pupils are at school to learn. The schools should do what ti takes to facilitate that. Here we have some scientific evidence about this and, if it stands up after some more trial, schools should follow what it says.
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Offline median

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2014, 07:50:06 PM »
As an educator myself this is both a difficult question to wrestle with and an important one. In some classes, we've seen student come in not being able to read - and coming out leagues above where they started only a year before (this is with no formal grading but rather fractions: "You got 8/10 correct!" etc). We are now asking a lot more "why" and "how" questions and I think this helps.

I actually think Willie made some good points and I'm not altogether convinced that we should completely eliminate grading. It may just be that we need to adjust the method of the grading system and provide for further student options, for students that are struggling etc. What else?
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Offline Mooby

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2014, 12:34:19 AM »
What else?  Well, really it's the whole system.  Kids are all stratified by age and then shuttled forward from year to year while teachers try to cram whatever lessons they can into them before they move on to the next level.  So those who pick up the basics quickly will be able to build on them easily at the next level, while those slower to pick up the basics are not going to be able to build on them.

So in the end there's a percentage of kids who are being held back waiting for the whole group to advance to the next level, and a percentage who can't keep up with the pace.  And sure, honors programs, remediation, tutoring, etc. help to a degree, but it's still a rather poorly built system and it's probably a large part of why a lot of kids lose their school motivation after a few years.  Ideal education would involve each kid learning new material at his or her ideal pace and mastering each thing before moving onto the next.  That's just really hard to do with the traditional lecture model of education.
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Offline median

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2014, 02:55:39 PM »
What else?  Well, really it's the whole system.  Kids are all stratified by age and then shuttled forward from year to year while teachers try to cram whatever lessons they can into them before they move on to the next level.  So those who pick up the basics quickly will be able to build on them easily at the next level, while those slower to pick up the basics are not going to be able to build on them.

So in the end there's a percentage of kids who are being held back waiting for the whole group to advance to the next level, and a percentage who can't keep up with the pace.  And sure, honors programs, remediation, tutoring, etc. help to a degree, but it's still a rather poorly built system and it's probably a large part of why a lot of kids lose their school motivation after a few years.  Ideal education would involve each kid learning new material at his or her ideal pace and mastering each thing before moving onto the next.  That's just really hard to do with the traditional lecture model of education.

You raise some good points here. If I had my way about it I would only teach small groups of students (groups of 3-8 at a time, max). But, there just isn't enough funding for that type of thing. However, I don't really see the information being "crammed" into students. It is a lot more like a medium job (with room for error/growth) than it is a fast sprint (with the opportunity for struggling students to get extra help, b/c they have implemented that here in so-cal). This to me is why we need good, motivated, and inspiring teachers - and so many I work with are really not that inspired/inspiring or interested in learning more themselves (only some are). They are just going through the motions at the "J-O-B". I say, raise teacher salaries (while having more strict standards for who is working in the field) and watch the 'products' increase in quality.
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2014, 03:39:37 PM »
Not grading kids works right up until the time that they reach the real world when their lifestyle is determined by how they are graded in usefulness to society.

It may be fine to give Jimmy a prize for being second to last in the sack race, but the cold winds of reality are going to come as a shock to him.

Should we tell him that he is fat and as thick as a brick? No. Should we give him an education that will be of maximum benefit? Yes. Is that possible? No, Should we sort of "grade him" in 20% groups? Why not... it's a start.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline Quesi

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2014, 06:28:51 AM »
No-grade systems are effective with motivated learners in well-designed educational programs.

I personally have two very different experiences within a no-grade system.

The first was an "experimental classroom" in 6th grade.  It was actually several classrooms, several teachers, and a huge space.  Students were required to do a certain amount of math, reading and writing every day, and a certain amount of social studies and science each week.

That was the last year that I excelled in science.  There was a "science station" and a number of themed activities to choose from.  The themed activities allowed students to familiarize themselves with a variety of concepts through activities, experiments and creation.   I conducted experiments.  I built stuff, that I got to show off to classmates.  I finished the 6th grade activities in all categories, and they had to search to put me onto higher level stuff.

For me it worked.

I went to a traditional 7th grade, and science became memorization, complete with quizzes on vocabulary.  So through Jr high school and high school, I continued to excel in writing and activities related to literature and history.  But I never again excelled at science. 

My second experience was a life decision based on my success in 6th grade.  As an undergrad I selected a touchy feely college with no tests and no grades.  And I never worked so hard in my life.

For example, in a writing class, which met 3 times per week, (for 3 hours each class, I think).  I was expected to arrive at each class with an essay.  It was a small group, with 7 or 8 students.  We drank tea, and sat in a circle in front of a fireplace.  Each class, we read our work to our classmates, who then critiqued what we had written.  In depth.  There were no grades.  But there was assessment and feedback.  Each week we needed to revise one essay as a result of peer feedback.  It was a lot of work.  And I really learned to improve my writing. 

Another class which I particularly enjoyed was "Freud, Marx and Darwin - Great Thinkers of the 19th Century."  We read mostly primary sources.  And we read a lot.  The group was very small - maybe 5 or 6 students and the professor.  And during our class sessions, we discussed what we read.  In a group that small, of motivated students, no one ever pretended to have completed the reading without having done so.  It would have been impossible.  I remember reading Origin of Species and the Descent of Man.  And being underwhelmed.  Having read so many secondary sources on evolution previously, I found the content surprisingly simplistic, and the language cumbersome.  But dammit, I read both of them, cover to cover.  In class, during a discussion of competition as a means for survival, the professor motioned Peter Kroptkin, who was a contemporary of Darwin, who studied to role of cooperation as a means for survival.  I was intrigued, and at the professor's suggestion, I added Mutual Aid to my already heavy reading load.  And it changed my life.

For me, as a motivated learner, these no-grade experiences were demanding and successful.  And although after 4 years in a no-grade undergrad system, I was nervous about attending a traditional grad school, I did not have problems transitioning back to a traditional system.

Not grading kids works right up until the time that they reach the real world when their lifestyle is determined by how they are graded in usefulness to society.



For me, this wasn't the case.  When I got my first management level position within a not-for-profit, I had very little supervision.  I oversaw a tiny little program, that I was very committed to.  And I built it up.  I had a vision of what I wanted to do, which was way beyond what was expected of me.  I remember begging to write my first grant, even though that was not my job responsibility.  And I got it.  And my program grew.  And became recognized.  So then, I got to write grants whenever I wanted.  And the program grew more. 

So for me, it worked. 

My 7 year old loves to come home with 100% on her math tests.  And quite frankly, I do not have a vision of how the process of learning to carry the one when adding two and three digit numbers could be taught in the way in which I pursued science in 6th grade, or writing or critical thinking as an undergrad. 

What I do know is that this current obsession with testing and grading schools on test scores is creating a disaster.  There is way too much drilling, and not nearly as much exploring.  My daughter's school prides itself on continuing to teach science and social studies in the months preceding the big Common Core tests.  Most schools abandon those superficial subjects as the BIG TESTS approach.  And that is wrong.   
« Last Edit: March 23, 2014, 06:31:51 AM by Quesi »

Offline Willie

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2014, 07:41:36 AM »
There were no grades.  But there was assessment and feedback.

I don't get this. Maybe someone can explain it to me. What kind of assessment isn't just another form of grading? And is it objective? Is it meaningful outside of the same organization that granted it?

That was the last year that I excelled in science.  There was a "science station" and a number of themed activities to choose from.  The themed activities allowed students to familiarize themselves with a variety of concepts through activities, experiments and creation.   I conducted experiments.  I built stuff, that I got to show off to classmates.  I finished the 6th grade activities in all categories, and they had to search to put me onto higher level stuff.

What bugs me about this is that much more changed than just grading. If you change A and observe a change in X, you cannot conclude that A causes X if you also changed B, C, and D. It could be that the improvement you experienced came from the more project-based, hands-on, approach, not from the lack of traditional grading. I would guess that if your class underwent traditional testing at or near the end of this course, they scored better than their conventionally educated peers. If so, what would this tell you? Would their peers' poorer performance be the result of grading and testing, or would it be the result of inferior teaching methods?


Offline Quesi

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2014, 08:59:50 AM »
There were no grades.  But there was assessment and feedback.

I don't get this. Maybe someone can explain it to me. What kind of assessment isn't just another form of grading? And is it objective? Is it meaningful outside of the same organization that granted it? 

In this particular case, the assessment was peer review, in which the students in the class critiqued the work, and each student was responsible for revising and improving their work based on that feedback.

In addition, the school was set up with a system of written evaluations.  The students wrote an evaluation of what they had learned and accomplished in each course, and the professors wrote a narrative evaluation of the students' work, highlighting accomplishments, growth, areas to focus on in the future, etc.  These narrative evaluations were condensed in order to create transcripts, which were used to do things like apply for grad school.

In addition, this particular school had a very close student/advisor relationship.  Students met with advisors weekly to discuss what they were working on.  Advisors made suggestions on everything from revising goals, time management, setting priorities, etc.  Advisors were also responsible for signing off on a plan of study for each semester, and ultimately reviewing the narrative evaluations of each course created by the students and the professors. 

So there was real assessment.  Not a ranking.  Was it objective?  I don't think I could argue that it was.  Was the evaluation process motivating?  Informative?  Did I sometimes shift my focus as a result of both written evaluations and advisor feedback?   Absolutely.

And when I applied for grad school. the head of my department didn't see a GPA.  He saw a narrative description of my passions and my accomplishments.  When I walked into his office for the first time, he felt like he knew a lot about me.   

That was the last year that I excelled in science.  There was a "science station" and a number of themed activities to choose from.  The themed activities allowed students to familiarize themselves with a variety of concepts through activities, experiments and creation.   I conducted experiments.  I built stuff, that I got to show off to classmates.  I finished the 6th grade activities in all categories, and they had to search to put me onto higher level stuff.

What bugs me about this is that much more changed than just grading. If you change A and observe a change in X, you cannot conclude that A causes X if you also changed B, C, and D. It could be that the improvement you experienced came from the more project-based, hands-on, approach, not from the lack of traditional grading. I would guess that if your class underwent traditional testing at or near the end of this course, they scored better than their conventionally educated peers. If so, what would this tell you? Would their peers' poorer performance be the result of grading and testing, or would it be the result of inferior teaching methods?

Absolutely.  It was more than just a lack of grades.  It was a project based design that inspired me. The teachers were not teaching to a test, and I was not preparing for a test. 

Offline wheels5894

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2014, 12:38:59 PM »
I have to say I am most impressed with this college. The university I went to in the UK moved to semesters after I started. That meant that every course was 12 weeks long with just 10 weeks of teaching and no time for reflection or absorbing what we were learning. It was a straight sprint of memory work for the exam at the end!
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2014, 02:34:04 PM »
No-grade systems are effective with motivated learners in well-designed educational programs. [...] So for me, it worked.
Motivated learners are like hen's teeth. You and your kind comprise a remarkably low percentile of the population. To extrapolate on this basis is a mistake. "It worked for me and I enjoyed it therefore that should be the system for everyone." is wrong. I want to know what social background you and your class were from; how other class members fared, and how your class compared in future life with a similar cohort who were traditionally educated[1].

I wish I had the time to tell you of my wife's experiences as a post-graduate student-teacher at a university on a course designed and run by Douglas Holly, the UK founding father of this "no-grade" system. It concerns a class that failed, whereas student-teachers sent to traditional schools saw pupils flourish according to ability.

A search for Holly's once highly regarded books show that they are out of print and consigned to the dustbin of history. The education minister at the time, the late Sir Keith Joseph, later admitted that the idea was disastrous and he apologised (but only when he had retired.) It was a human experiment that went wrong for many children who otherwise might have succeeded.

An unwanted effect of some of the schools that took on this "Get on with it children! Experiment and learn by yourselves" approach was that they produced children without practical ability and without paper qualifications, who nevertheless thought the world would accept them. Employers, wary of this system, avoided them.

If you have the money, send your child to a fee-paying school with its smaller classes and more personal approach to learning in line with temperament and ability - the rich know the value of grading. However, the state is never rich enough and has to group pupils to give them an approximation of personal tutors.

I urge you to reject this seductive, no grade system.









 1. I don't mean that you should give personal details, or disclose this much information, but make available some comparisons if possible. This type of "liberal educational system" appeals greatly to the middle-classes who are worried that their offspring might be do less well than "common children."
« Last Edit: March 23, 2014, 02:37:05 PM by Graybeard »
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Offline wheels5894

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2014, 03:20:38 PM »
But there again, Graybeard, Keith Joseph as well as countless education ministers, didn't and don't have much idea about education! Sure the same thing doesn't motivate every child but this race for exams and tests doesn't work either. Pupils and teachers are just working towards the next test/exam and are concerned only for passing it rather than learning anything.

So far as I was concerned, I could have spent a happy 2 years learning Aramaic and exploring it but we were left with a 12 week course instead. We really didn't learn enough!

We are all obsessed with marks and not with learning.
No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such that its falshood would be more miraculous than the facts it endeavours to establish. (David Hume)

Offline Graybeard

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #15 on: March 23, 2014, 03:53:22 PM »
But there again, Graybeard, Keith Joseph as well as countless education ministers, didn't and don't have much idea about education!
It is my experience that few minister have any idea about the subject of the office that they hold. What makes them the focal point is that some civil servant has interpreted their wishes and they have agreed to the action.
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Sure the same thing doesn't motivate every child
This is key.
Quote
but this race for exams and tests doesn't work either. Pupils and teachers are just working towards the next test/exam and are concerned only for passing it rather than learning anything.
This is the greatest point that it is possible to make. It is the point upon which everything depends. It asks "Why are we interested in results?" and "If we are interested in results what should we do?" and "How do we measure results?"

Schools are told that they need to educate children to a certain standard, and upon this, their funding is decided as is the fate of their headmaster. Headmasters therefore order that children be taught to pass exams. This is what headmasters should do because they, and their school, depend upon it. How else can a school be judged?

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So far as I was concerned, I could have spent a happy 2 years learning Aramaic and exploring it but we were left with a 12 week course instead. We really didn't learn enough!
Exactly! You make my point. Individual teaching is required but all that is affordable is group teaching.

Quote
We are all obsessed with marks and not with learning.
If the purpose of education is to prepare people for the adult modern world, how do we do it? Remember, employers like pieces of paper.
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Offline Foxy Freedom

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #16 on: March 24, 2014, 01:53:48 AM »
Grading is important not just for when someone leaves school but for when they are at school too. If the grading is done by people who are not at the school it prevents favoritism and prejudice. If the teachers grade work themselves they grade according to how much they like the person. They also using grading in other ways. Teachers often offered to help me rewrite work to get an A in return for one thing or another. You guys probably don't know how much this happens. I always said that it wouldn't make any difference to me what grade I got. I hoped they would leave me alone if I pretended I didn't care. That was the image I used to put out, some people probably still believe I am like that. Actually, there was a lot of psychological pressure at home even if it was played down because no one wanted to be the biggest loser. That is why personal development is so important to me. I learned to do things independently similar to Quesi above but I did it outside of school, so I am against a non grade system because teachers just use it to pick favorites. It is even worse than being graded by teachers in school. People who don't need grades can learn outside of school like I did.
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Offline Quesi

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #17 on: March 24, 2014, 07:02:37 AM »
GB- I am going to respectfully disagree with you on this one.  Yes, in order for a no-grading system to work, the learners MUST be motivated learners.  But I think that children are born with the motivation to learn.

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about how children are born scientists.  Natural explorers, who bang things together to see what happens, and take things apart, and mix things together, and make a mess, and then get in trouble for doing this stuff.  He says that we, as parents, stifle the natural curiosity.  And I agree.

I think all children are born motivated learners.  They want to learn to talk.  To communicate.  To build.  To accomplish.  To problem solve.  Perhaps there is an innate drive that is stronger in some kids than others.  And obviously, environmental factors are essential to nurturing the motivation to learn.

Toddlers are the most motivated learners out there.  And I suspect that our motivation diminishes with age.  Sadly, many adults believe that they know all that is necessary to know, and simply stop the process of real learning.  Perhaps they continue to memorize the names of the new players on their favorite sports teams, but they cease to increase their critical thinking or problem solving.

So to me, the question is not so much about grading or not grading, but more about nurturing a life long love of learning and exploration. 

How do we take that innate motivation to learn that we have as children, and keep that motivation high into adolescence and then beyond into adulthood? What kinds of learning environments should we create, both at home and in school, to keep the motivation high?

For me, memorizing vocabulary or dates for the purposes of spitting them out on an exam, took the joy out of learning.   I completed the task in order to pass the exam, and then quickly forgot the words and especially the dates.  But I had to do it to earn a grade.  As a child, I LOVED creating timelines.  Perhaps I would never remember more than a small portion of the actual dates.  But I learned sequence and context, which is ultimately more important.   Some learner are visual.  Some are auditory.  Some are kinesthetic.   Most of us need to test something, apply it somehow, to really learn it.  And almost all of use need to care about it.

For some students, achieving a good grade is motivation enough.  For others, the process of achieving that grade squelches the natural curiosity and problem solving skills.  I think that we need a diversity of educational options available to us, and obviously, we need longitudinal studies that demonstrate which methods are most effective in the long term. 

Some of the nations that have the most successful educational systems are those that encourage PLAY as a means of learning at a very young age.  Most of Scandinavia falls into that category.  Their emphasis is on "learning how to learn."  They are all about motiving students to learn.  And making it fun!  They teacher reading later than most countries.  And in the long run, their educational systems are among the most successful in the world.  On the other end of the spectrum is Korea, with its grinding educational system.  Longitudinal studies show both systems work  I would have fared better in Finland.  Perhaps you would have fared better in Korea. 

Back to my buddy, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who said in a recent interview that his grades were ok], but not as strong as some of his peers at Bronx Science. [1]  He sometimes neglected his class requirements, because he was interested in "other stuff."

I struggle with this with my own daughter.  Grades vs "other stuff."  I can't tell you how many nights I have to tell my 7 year old to stop playing chess on the ipad, because she has to do her math worksheets.  She always gets superb grades in math, and I want her to continue to.  Her grades will go down if the worksheets are not completed.  But in the long run, isn't she learning more from chess?  I wish I didn't have to pull her away from the more important learning, in order to achieve the grades. 
 1. One of the most elite high schools in the US.  Harder to get into than Harvard

Offline wheels5894

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #18 on: March 24, 2014, 09:03:08 AM »
Maybe this is to do more with how frequently pupils are tested. Obviously pupils have to have some sort of qualifications when leaving school - either for work or for further study. They are going to have to satisfy employers that they know what they say they know. Perhaps, though, this testing could be saved until it is really needed and not, as a lot of UK schools seems to do, test all the time. We could start with once a year testing and then see if we could manage with even less.
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Offline median

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #19 on: March 24, 2014, 09:25:22 AM »
As a teacher, working in the field right now, I can say that a lot of this stuff comes down to the old saying, "It depends". I work in a low-socioeconomic district and though it is true that lots of kids are motivated to learn (with the right motivating teacher of course - that being me :) ), there are lots of other students who have broken homes, abuse parents, neglecting parents, parents on drugs, or some sort of major home-life hindrance that causes them to act out, not do their work, mess around, and not be engaged. In a class with 30+ students it's sometimes difficult to help those 'suffering' students b/c there just isn't enough time. And though I so badly want to help them (b/c I came from a "broken home" myself, in ways) I can only do so much, in that the class must progress.

There is something brewing here in California though with education and grading. Many teachers are now modifying the way they assess student competency (as well as how they teach students the necessary material). More and more we are seeing assessment done in terms of discussions (on discussion boards - like this one - or in class). Of course, this is not entirely the case (b/c there are lots of course-materials that really need to be explained, drilled/practiced, put to memory, and then used in a realistic sense - in different ways and at different times - such as math), but even with those exercises many teachers are now asking a lot more of the "who, what, when, where, and why?" questions. "How did you get your answer?" or "What thinking processes did you go through to come to this conclusion?" are becoming more common now.

It seems to me that the best education is the personalized kind, where students are encouraged to learn in the way that best suits their own learning style (even when learning in groups - b/c we know group learning is very effective). We are getting closer but there is much work to be done in terms of how these things are all played out, worked out, and/or implemented. Does this mean we should eliminate grading? I'm not sure. Maybe the better answer is just to change the way we grade as opposed to getting rid of grading altogether.

For me though, one thing is for sure. I want to do the best job I possibly can to inspire students to love school subjects. Math, reading, writing, history/social studies, the ever fascinating sciences (which are some of my favorites), music, and of course critical thinking. Since I love these subjects myself, I hope to inspire them to love them as well.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2014, 09:29:56 AM by median »
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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #20 on: March 24, 2014, 09:54:39 AM »
There is, to me, a lot of truth within what you write, but I don’t think it is the whole truth. It is much of what was said at the time of the disastrous experiment of the 1970s. We must learn history so we do not make the same mistakes.

GB- I am going to respectfully disagree with you on this one.  Yes, in order for a no-grading system to work, the learners MUST be motivated learners.  But I think that children are born with the motivation to learn.
The addition here is that although children will learn, it depends what they learn. If they learn erroneously, those errors persist in life. I say this as children can think that they have the answer but it is a delusion. Grading, through exams and consideration of term work, is essential. Without this neither we nor they know where they are nor what their needs are, and thus educating them becomes difficult.

Your comment moves from “the learners MUST be motivated learners.” to “But I think that children are born with the motivation to learn.” You move from an absolute statement to an opinion. I am surprised that you do not recognise that children are individuals and, as such, will have individual levels of motivation. Some of the less gifted will never grasp certain concepts: the highly gifted will never be able to receive enough to motivate them properly.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about how children are born scientists.
As much as I like Tyson, I feel that this quote has been taken out of context and Tyson is speaking figuratively. We all know that child who is “useless at maths” -> he is not going to be a scientist.
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He says that we, as parents, stifle the natural curiosity.  And I agree.
This additional context shows that he is speaking in the broadest terms and thus his words should not form a foundation to a system that is a human experiment that has been shown to have questionable outcomes. I’m sure that he did not intend them to.

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I think all children are born motivated learners.
You have said this before: do you agree that their motivation and ability differs amongst individuals? 
{quote]Perhaps there is an innate drive that is stronger in some kids than others.[/quote]
You accept this… good. And their abilities?
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And obviously, environmental factors are essential to nurturing the motivation to learn.
You have just introduced a huge variable: not only are their backgrounds different but so is the background of their parents. We now need to admit that children are individuals and respond to individually tailored education styles – one size does not fit all.

Nature was not democratic when it handed out ability, background, motivation, intelligence, interests, etc.

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Toddlers are the most motivated learners out there.
Teaching is a directionalised occupation: You need to know that when the child finishes with its educational career, that it is ready and equipped for the world. To do this, it is necessary to measure the progress along the way and then adjust the teaching to suit the child’s learning ability and style. This is the skill of a teacher.
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but they cease to increase their critical thinking or problem solving.
My wife, a philosophy major, insists that critical thinking is the greatest gift you can give a child regardless of its abilities. Teach philosophy – but grade to assess understanding and needs.

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So to me, the question is not so much about grading or not grading, but more about nurturing a life long love of learning and exploration.
It is unfortunate that the subject of the thread is one of grading. If you want to discuss “nurturing a life long love of learning and exploration” then the critical thinking route is the one to take.

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How do we take that innate motivation to learn that we have as children, and keep that motivation high into adolescence and then beyond into adulthood?
At adulthood, we offer courses but make no compulsion – adults are free from all interference. 
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What kinds of learning environments should we create, both at home and in school, to keep the motivation high?
How much money do we have to spend and where does the money come from?

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For me, memorizing vocabulary or dates for the purposes of spitting them out on an exam, took the joy out of learning.
”Spitting” is a wonderfully emotive verb. Did you choose it as you did not do well in the area of learning dates?
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I completed the task in order to pass the exam, and then quickly forgot the words and especially the dates.  But I had to do it to earn a grade.  As a child, I LOVED creating timelines.  Perhaps I would never remember more than a small portion of the actual dates.
I have my answer… : )
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Some learner are visual.  Some are auditory.  Some are kinesthetic.   Most of us need to test something, apply it somehow, to really learn it.
Yes, we are individuals. Practically, the closer we can get to a personalised education, the better – grading gives some guidance.
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And almost all of us need to care about it.
Yes, that is important. But it is hard to care about something if you have missed a few earlier building blocks.

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For some students, achieving a good grade is motivation enough.
It is more than that – satisfaction is achieved by grades increasing.
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For others, the process of achieving that grade squelches the natural curiosity and problem solving skills.
So far, you have not mentioned the division that we all see between arts and science students. I can understand why arts students have no interest in the finer points of a frog’s anatomy and science students remain cold to a post-modernist installation.

Do we force appreciation?
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I think that we need a diversity of educational options available to us, and obviously, we need longitudinal studies that demonstrate which methods are most effective in the long term.
How do we do this without measuring? How do we measure without grading?
 
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Some of the nations that have the most successful educational systems are those that encourage PLAY as a means of learning at a very young age.  Most of Scandinavia falls into that category.  Their emphasis is on "learning how to learn."  They are all about motiving students to learn.  And making it fun!  They teacher reading later than most countries.
Have you considered that these countries are very wealthy?

I did mention earlier that fee-paying schools produce better exam results and their pupils go on to greater things.

It is the money… Wealthy families are more stable, are likely to spend more time and money on their children… in short, those variables I spoke of earlier are all in the child’s favour.

I would be careful about comparing performance in Norway and the same performance in Chad.

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And in the long run, their educational systems are among the most successful in the world.  On the other end of the spectrum is Korea, with its grinding educational system.  Longitudinal studies show both systems work  I would have fared better in Finland.  Perhaps you would have fared better in Korea.
No. I certainly would not have. For the first 8 years of my life, I did not need to work to remain top of the class. For the next 7 years, I slowly slid back as I had not learned to learn as I had not needed to. My results went down – not that horribly, but they went down. Nobody reacted. No use was made of those grades to inform the teachers of what I required.

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  But in the long run, isn't she learning more from chess?
Learning more what? Maths and chess are mental manipulation. Maths has a wide application, chess, not so much.
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I wish I didn't have to pull her away from the more important learning, in order to achieve the grades.
She is doing well in maths, but you pull her away from chess… Are you imagining how you were at her age? How you worked for history and had to work for history? Does she need to work for maths?

Sounds like she is being held back and is bored because she likes and can do maths – chess is always a new challenge. Shouldn’t she be moving into new and more challenging areas of maths to keep her brain sharp and her motivation high?

Should she have been graded and should not the grading dictate what she should now be learning?
« Last Edit: March 24, 2014, 09:56:38 AM by Graybeard »
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Offline Chronos

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #21 on: March 25, 2014, 10:43:50 AM »
Motivated learners are like hen's teeth. You and your kind comprise a remarkably low percentile of the population. To extrapolate on this basis is a mistake. "It worked for me and I enjoyed it therefore that should be the system for everyone." is wrong.

GB- I am going to respectfully disagree with you on this one.  Yes, in order for a no-grading system to work, the learners MUST be motivated learners.  But I think that children are born with the motivation to learn.

Graybeard, I have to disagree with you about how a no-grade system will not work for the vast masses of students. At the same time, I do not advocate for a no-grade system. I advocate a middle ground.

No-grade systems usually involve self-discovery in which the student learns at his/her own particular rate and method, but more importantly they also learn what they like and what they are best at doing. In concept, this is the no-child-left-behind system. The testing we have in place doesn't change it, and some say it exacerbates the problem the system is trying to alleviate.

Sure, we have an economy in which people are graded for what they know or what they offer, but worse, the kind of grading we do in our economy is dollars. We don't measure the relative worth to society of a particular job, we just measure how many dollars somebody should earn to do a particular job. In our quest for dollars, we are training kids to follow the dollars not what they love. The self-discovery that goes on in a no-grade system will allow a student to grow more, mentally, to learn what they like best and what they don't. It also allows other students to help each other learn. Students become teachers to others. The best way to learn something is to be responsible for teaching it to someone else.

If biology is presented as a topical wheel, the students can choose the point on the wheel that interests them the most. They start learning there, but they eventually get sucked into nearly every other point on the wheel. Otherwise, students begin to think of the class as drudgery.

We have to change our educational system. Back when the only things we had to learn were basic reading, writing and math skills, putting students into a school like how we put milk cows in a barn was good enough. It got the job done. However, the world of knowledge is far too great and complex compared to 1885. We have to re-think our entire educational system to match contemporary knowledge and needs. We train students to learn topics that will earn them more money instead of learning topics that are of greater interest to them (and let the money follow). We end up with a lot of displaced people.

Now, a no-grade system is not perfect, but neither is a grade system. A certain amount of grading is necessary, but it should be a pass-fail system. Chasing A's or B's or getting stressed out by C's and D's is stupid. We should create learning levels in each topic and let students explore what interests them the most but require that students reach acceptable levels in certain basic topics, such as reading, writing and math. This is essentially a grading system but grading is much less prominent. I've heard that is similar to what Montessori schools do.


An unwanted effect of some of the schools that took on this "Get on with it children! Experiment and learn by yourselves" approach was that they produced children without practical ability and without paper qualifications, who nevertheless thought the world would accept them. Employers, wary of this system, avoided them.

I cannot speak to a particular educator's learning system or the results it did or did not produce. However, as an employer, I can speak about the system we have now which is quite dysfunctional. We produce students who can tell you what is happening at the cellular level or what happened to Othello, but they can't balance a check book. They don't even understand the basic legal consequences of hiring a person to fix their car. They don't read anything presented to them, they just ask someone else to tell them what is going on. That's the key. They ask someone else to tell them what is going on. It's somebody else's responsibility to tell them what is going on. Now, trust me, I understand that there are people with lower IQs who need some help. There always will be. But we have trained the vast majority of people in our society to have someone else tell them what is going on, what's important and what do you need to do to get through this moment.

I don't look at grades when I interview someone. I am entirely uninterested. I've seen people graduate college who seem to function on about a 10th grade level and I've seen people who barely graduated high school learn things very quickly all on their own. It's about passion and determination. So, I tailor my questions during an interview to find out the most about those two things. Of course, I choose to interview the people who speak the best on the phone: clear, concise and friendly. In my line of work basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, division (and percentages) are all the math skills any prospective employee needs. But, more critically, that person has to have very good thinking skills (logic, abstraction, comparative analysis, anticipation). Those 4 skills ... are most often missing among the people I interview. Often, they are missing from the skill sets of my clients.

Our current system of education is mostly producing computational zombies. Read this, answer that. We don't ask students to explore on their own -- we don't even give them time to explore on their own.


If you have the money, send your child to a fee-paying school with its smaller classes and more personal approach to learning in line with temperament and ability - the rich know the value of grading. However, the state is never rich enough and has to group pupils to give them an approximation of personal tutors.

I can give you countless examples of people who pay lots of money to send their kids to private schools but the schools do not produce high-quality students. In fact, many of these schools (typically the non-Catholic ones) use no-grade systems or pass-fail systems. One thing about paying extra money to send your kid to a private school: the school is reluctant to give your kid bad grades or even tell you that what came out of your loins is not going to amount to much. (If the kid is a pain in the ass and they would like him gone from the school, they'll tell you anything to get rid of him.) I've had two employees who graduated from private schools (one was from a very prominent secular private school near Baltimore, the other from a traditional Catholic school with a small student base). Both interviewed well because they were certainly trained to speak well in many situations, so that part of their education was excellent, but they turned out to be pathetic employees.


I urge you to reject this seductive, no grade system.

I disagree. Again, a modification is to have a pass-fail system. Inherently, I think no-grade systems are pass-fail systems, but I think the grading system should be internal for parents to see. Parents are the key to a child's education. Really they are.


« Last Edit: March 25, 2014, 06:03:03 PM by Chronos »
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Offline median

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #22 on: March 25, 2014, 11:28:42 AM »
I have to say, I agree with much of what Chronos says here. First, and most importantly, parents are wholly key to a child's education. If they don't care (like many of my parents here don't) then the student is at much higher risk of failing (exponentially), or at the very least being held back until something changes. In my own personal life I can say with confidence that grades have really held me back, pretty much for similar reasons as mentioned here before. When A,B,C,D,F is in effect I am only looking to get inside the test makers head and 'figure out the answer'. At that point, I really don't care about learning that much or being a critical thinker. It's just "Scoop it up and dump it out!" In  my mind this kind of grading sets up many students for failure, and really the biggest concern with it is the anxiety, tension, stress, depression, and other psychological problems that can be instilled in students when they receive a grade of "YOU FAILED".

Naturally, there is always going to be somewhat of a bell curve in these things but I am 100% on board with teaching students critical thinking, while implementing a better grading method, so as to better prepare them for the real world. Being a philosophy major myself I wish so badly that I could teach them logical fallacies, formal logical structures, and real life applications of interesting ideas but it just doesn't seem that the public school system (as it is currently setup) is capable of handling that - b/c ya know "students need to know X thing right now".

What if we taught students critical thinking skills first, before the other subjects? I have often wondered if we are trying to teach too much to too many students at once. 
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Offline Chronos

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #23 on: March 25, 2014, 07:10:34 PM »
Being a philosophy major myself I wish so badly that I could teach them logical fallacies, formal logical structures, and real life applications of interesting ideas but it just doesn't seem that the public school system (as it is currently setup) is capable of handling that - b/c ya know "students need to know X thing right now".

The first problem of logical fallacies is that the first one they hear often is "God did it." It's challenging to learn critical thinking skills when among the first things told to you is a gigantic lie that you are to never question.


What if we taught students critical thinking skills first, before the other subjects? I have often wondered if we are trying to teach too much to too many students at once.

The most common complaint I hear about school is "Why do we have to learn this math? (usually more advanced math, like geometry)  I'll never use it whenever I get a job!" Maybe not, but you won't use Othello or cellular biology, either. I think we have a lot of time wasted by herding students through classes instead of letting them learn what interests them at their own pace.


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Offline nogodsforme

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #24 on: March 25, 2014, 09:27:55 PM »
What a complicated topic. As a college professor, I get to deal with what the elementary and high schools are doing every day. And we at the higher levels are supposed to do it better.

Not using grades and letting students experiment and explore? Sounds good, maybe,  until you hit the reality of budgets and governing boards looking at graduation and employment rates. Add to all that the fact that taxpayers don't like money going to anything that seems touchy-feely when the kids need to have concrete job skills.

I am surprised that any US public school (or college for that matter) still offers art, music, drama or any other classes that don't seem to lead directly to college and/or a job.[1]

I would love to have an educational system that helped young people develop their artistic, scientific, mathematical, musical and verbal abilities. I would love to see all kids given the time and space to learn critical thinking as they learn to read, learn history and do math problems. I would love for them to be able to learn without the pressure of a number or a letter grade. However, that is not reality. 

Reality is that some kids do struggle so much just getting the basics that they never get to experience all the joys of learning and discovery that Quesi had. It may not be the kids' fault that they can't read or do basic math after 6 or 8 years in school. Some kids move every six months and start over again in a new school, some have to take care of younger sibs and never have time for homework, some translate for parents and are thinking in too many languages, some are getting evicted or living in their cars, some have as was mentioned, parents with mental or drug problems.

For these kids, free-form education will probably be a disaster. They need way more structure. They need to know what they already know, what they don't know yet, and what they need to do. So there have to be levels with clear outcomes. And the education has to be cost-effective and that means no small classes of 6-8 kids doing self-designed science projects.

Even at the college level we are supposed to teach larger and larger classes for the same or less money. And that means lots of standardized tests and fewer written portfolios of work or peer reviews. Not because those kinds of assessments are no good. But because standardized tests are what the voters are willing to pay for.

During the years I have been teaching, I have had to change from short answer and essay work to more multiple choice exams. I hated to do it, but I teach three classes of 42 students with no teacher assistant every term. I cannot physically read 120+ essay exams and give meaningful comments several times a term.

I also give fewer written assignments in general because so few of the students write well. Students who cannot write just download papers from the internet. I do not have time to teach writing in addition to my subject matter in order to assign a 10-page term paper.  I would just have to basically grade them all pass/fail or give most of them very low marks. 

Many people outside of education wonder why we just don't fail all the students who don't do well. However, if you fail too many students, they do not take your classes and you do not get hired back because your classes do not fill. (Seen ratemyprofessor.com?) Budget is the bottom line.[2]
 
One last point is that a positive personality and good attitude mean far more to an employer than high grades. If a kid has decent study skills and can learn on the job, it does not really matter what how they did in school. Study skills--how to learn on your own-- may be the best thing educators can teach today's kids.
 1. Since I have been teaching my college has cut or completely eliminated several fine art programs, including art history, ceramics and jewelry making. Only graphic arts and printing remain untouched. We have reduced the music program and are in the process of shutting the drama program. Somehow we manage to keep the athletics departments going, however....
 2. The dirty secret of many US colleges and universities is that we rely on large numbers of wealthy full-tuition paying foreign students to cover our bills. Many US students at state schools are actually paying only a quarter of what college costs; even their financial aid, loans, etc. does not really cover the rest. The majority is covered by government money and the dough forked over by rich kids' parents, esp. the foreigners.  Fail too many of these rich kids and kiss their money-- and your program-- bye-bye.
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline Foxy Freedom

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #25 on: March 26, 2014, 09:20:00 AM »
Inherently, I think no-grade systems are pass-fail systems, but I think the grading system should be internal for parents to see. Parents are the key to a child's education. Really they are.

Bullshit...an internally graded system is just a no grade system which the teacher writes on a piece of paper. Both just mean the teacher can choose who they like by prejudice and favouritism. It is essential that school pupils are regularly graded by people who don't know them. You wouldn't believe the number of times teachers asked me to spend the evening with them to "help me with my grades".

My parents attitude to education in school was that you learn about people from the people around you and facts are something you learn at home. It was definitely true. I learned a lot about incompetence and favouritism in the real world which was more valuable than any facts from any book. It saved me from making stupid assumptions about what is possible in life and how to achieve what can be achieved. Facts are now the easiest thing in life to learn for anyone who has the interest and ability. There is more information online than anyone could read, plus references to more books than any university course could cover. Free degree courses and textbooks are available online so anyone can learn the information before they even start a course.  The internet has completely changed what the best methods of learning are, and institutions have to keep up.
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Offline nogodsforme

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #26 on: March 26, 2014, 07:22:30 PM »
^^^So true about the availability of information. Nobody really needs traditional "school" to find out stuff these days if they have access to the internet. What people do need is basic reading and math ability, critical thinking, time management and study skills. If they have those, they can learn whatever they want on their own. I wish we could concentrate on teaching everyone those foundational skills and then set people loose to learn whatever they wanted. Knowledge is now global and practically free. That is a marvelous thing.

Here's the hitch. The work world has also gone global.

With 7 billion people on the planet, there are potentially thousands of people vying for every good job out there. An employer needs a fast way to determine who is a good candidate for the job. Who already has the skills you need? Who will be able to pass the training program? Who is not worth wasting time on?

Degrees, certificates and of course, grades, as flawed as they are, are the fast way to pre-screen people and weed out the folks who probably won't be able to cut it. Even with that, people can slip through who are not qualified, costing employers and everyone else time and money. [1]
 1. I read recently about a woman who claimed to have a high level science degree (chemistry IIRC)  and got an important police forensics job. She faked hundreds of lab results and now there are a lot of people in jail whose cases have to be reviewed. What she was probably really good at was creating a phony academic paper trail, possibly by hacking university databases. Maybe her real background was in graphic arts and computers?  :?
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline Foxy Freedom

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #27 on: March 27, 2014, 03:21:56 AM »
That is why I support regular grading but marked anonymously by people who don't know the students.

I have found that the lower someone's intelligence is, the more guesses they make about facts and the more certain they are of the guesses. I think the most important job of institutions should be to help students eliminate the guesses of the gaps and become aware that their guesses are just guesses.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: To Grade or not to Grade?
« Reply #28 on: March 27, 2014, 06:14:58 AM »
I think we have a lot of time wasted by herding students through classes instead of letting them learn what interests them at their own pace.

Interesting discussion everyone - just want to pick this point up as I think it is important.

Most employers will not give a toss what the person actually was learning to get their "A" in English.  Did they study Shakespeare and Milton?  Kipling and Keats?  Or Bennett and Stoppard?  I suspect the content of the course that led to the "A" matters very little - but I suspect what DOES matter a lot is the perception that this person put in effort in a subject that perhaps didn't really interest them, and produced the result that the examiner was looking for.

And, sad to say, that is what a LOT of lower-grade jobs want.  They want workers who will work at what they are told to (regardless of how interesting or exciting it is), and who will tailor their efforts to what the employer wants them to do.  Yes - there's room for a few outside the box thinkers, and there ARE careers where you do the stuff that motivates and interests you.  But reality is that for the majority of school-leavers, working life will be something they don't especailly want to do, undertaking tasks the way they are told to.  And THAT is exactly what "teach to the test" supports.

I don't say it's right, but I believe its reality for the majority.  And I suspect its why grading, and teaching to the test, will be here for the long run.   :(
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