A School With No Grades

I am glad to offer my humble opinion about a school with no grades. My perception of assessment and grading has evolved a lot as I have matured as a teacher. As a novice, grades were a puzzle for me and tests were not as ubiquitous as they are now. Since then, I have gotten my arms around the instructional set, found an effective place for assessment within them, and have become to abhor grades as we use them today.

My vision of a school without grades:

  • Talented  newcomers (“naturals”) and able veterans will be trusted to teach kids effectively. Using best practices culled from rich professional development that includes teacher-teaching-teachers demonstrations and lab-style methods conducted under real fire, teachers will spend much more time on those instructional procedures that produce learning. Learning will be self-evident, and gains will be revealed by frequent, informal, and economical (in both time and money)  formative assessments.
  • Novice teachers, veterans who have moved a grade level or a content level, and any teacher struggling with the instructional set will take a sabbatical from instruction and will shadow a mentor and complete a program of observations including pre- and post- observation meetings with a master teacher. The master teacher will decide when the teacher can begin instructional tasks.

O.K. Dream time over.

My philosophy on grading: a) the grade has to clearly show the child’s level of attainment of a given skill or content knowledge. b) no grade alone can do that c) far too much time, energy, and money is spent trying to invent the better grading system d) grading and assessment are corrupted by the general public’s lack of trust of the teacher.

Robyn R, Jackson, author of “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” offers a  philosophy on grading: Grades, at their best, provide effective “feedback that facilitates the learning process and helps students master the material.”

I have a narrow purpose for grading: to inform the stakeholders (student, parents, administration) of a student’s attainment of content, performance, and skill criteria. I do not grade all work, only baseline samples and cumulative assessments

The benefits of a “no grading” policy in our school? Many. The time and money spent preparing, implementing, scoring, litigating and otherwise administering grading schema can be spent on the instructional set – on those actions that best create learning, not simply measure it. .

Grading is a way to keep us honest. It keeps us accountable. In a healthy environment, grading is a reasonable way to measure and report learning. Unfortunately, today’s educational environment is sick. The system is rife with the symptoms of a sickness wrought by a lack of trust. Right or wrong, our educational complex is not trusted by society. This distrust may be rightfully earned, or may be an unfortunate result of a misunderstanding by most of the population. Regardless, it renders a costly consequence. Millions of dollars and hours of labor are spent to measure the education system. Sadly, no test, no grade, nor certification will repair that broken trust.

A free, compulsory education system is possible in a community united in mission. No grade can accomplish that.

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3 thoughts on “A School With No Grades

  1. I give this post a B+. Heartfelt and bold, but very threatening to the author’s paycheck. Since I care too much about him, I simply cannot give this piece the A it deserves.

  2. Well, I think you’ve got it partly right. i.e. “no grades” But if you want to learn about a model that really works, you need to take it farther and say no to curriculum as well. For more information check out http://www.sudval.org The Sudbury Valley School is beginning its 46th year. it’s graduates have gone on to be successful adults in all walks of life. And they did it with no grades and no external evaluations. They chose their interests and pursued them to whatever levels of personal satisfaction they had. For those (many/most) who chose higher education (after high school) they found themselves better educated and better disciplined than their peers.

  3. Pingback: News and Notes, Classroom Edition | Exploring the Past

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