Giving Grades is the Easy Way Out

Somewhere in the grade debate, colleges came into the picture.  As in if you don’t grade a student, they will never be able to get into college.  However, this simply isn’t true, in fact Alfie Kohn just discussed it in his latest article “The Case Against Grades.”  In it he also makes the point that even if a college did require grades, they don’t care about the grades from middle school or elementary school.  And yet as a nation we are obsessed with numbers and ranks.  We love to sort our children and compare them to others. Unfortunately because we have so many to get to, we do it the easy way; by assigning them a letter grade based on a percentage.

Now, you may think that I am bashing teachers who grade, but no, I am discussing the system that requires us to do so.  I grade.   I have to for trimester report cards, that is also the only time my students see a letter grade.  It is decided upon through a conversation between the student and where we discuss their progress and their goals.  Also, don’t confuse this for an attack on assessing students, because it is not.  Grades do not equal assessment at all times.

So let’s be frank, it is way easier for me to grade my students than it is to properly assess them.  Grading means I can tell them when something is due, collect it from them, take it home and based upon a rubric or key I assign their percentage which then translates into a grade.  All I then have to do is enter it into my gradebook and hand it back to the child.  Assessment done.  I don’t need to speak to the child about their work because it would not change how they did.  I could also dock them points if they handed it in late, or didn’t have their name on it.  I could dock them points for neatness or creativity, because I am the judge of both of those.

True assessment is messy and time consuming.  It involves speaking to the children about their work and their progress.  You have to find the time to speak to all of them about whatever they are working on.  You have to actually listen while they speak and brainstorm together.  And this can’t be a one-time visit either if the project is larger, then you have to find the time for multiple check-ins.  When the project is finished you look through it with the child.  You discuss its strengths, its weaknesses and how it could be improved.  You discuss what they have learned, what they have discovered, and sometimes you even let them take it back and work on it some more.  Those conversations don’t translate into neat percentages.  They don’t translate well into grades because my “A” is going to be different from anyone else’s “A.”  Together you assess and perhaps even find new venues for learning.  You walk away feeling that you know the child, their knowledge, their passions and what they need to focus on.  Percentages don’t tell you that.

Now I know what some will say; I don’t have time to discuss all of this with my students, especially people who have more than one classroom.  And to them I say; who decides what your assignments look like?  Who decides how the time is spent in the classroom?  We have more power over how we teach than we think, even with all of the crazy standards and regulations we all face.  We decide how the time is spent in our rooms, how material is covered, how students learn together.  We decide more than we know.

So next time you sit down to grade an assignment, wonder whether it can be done a different way.  Wonder whether this is truly giving you the best perception of the child’s learning and growth.  You might be surprised of what you realize.

4 thoughts on “Giving Grades is the Easy Way Out”

  1. They don't translate well into grades because my "A" is going to be different from anyone else's "A." That is one of the best sentences I've read all week. I shudder at the word "rubric" because I think it's a way to force me to become a scantron machine even though I'm working on essays/papers. I am SO tired of being forced to put numbers into a computer and have those numbers analyzed and even questioned. However, I often deal with the flip side. Teaching high school, I have found that there are students who act as if they need the grades or else they don't want to do their work at all. The most annoying question in my class (well except for the "can I go to the bathroom" that interrupts a good discussion) is "Is this going to be for a grade?"DOES IT REALLY HAVE TO ALWAYS BE FOR A GRADE? AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

  2. Hi Pernille,Another excellent post about grading on your blog! Would that more people spoke up about it like you do! I just linked to this post on my latest post about the real, intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose (from Dan Pink's Drive) Thanks for being a prophetic voice!Denise

  3. My name is Morgan Sims and I'm a student at the University of South Alabama. I am currently enrolled in EDM 310. This is a great post. Your statements are really true. Each child may learn differently and there goals may differ so I think it is smart to have a conversation with the child and determine grades based on there improvements and performance. It shouldn't always be strictly based on tests and percentages of grades.

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