TED Conversations

Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education


This conversation is closed.

Isn't it time to eliminate grades in education?

Give a student an F, she's learned nothing. Giver her an A, and what has she learned? Still nothing. Grades are subjective crutches, used by teachers because they either do not know any better, or because they are forced to give them by an archaic system.

Grades should be replaced by meaningful narrative feedback, which helps students understand what learning outcomes have or have not been mastered. Feedback also encourages learning, while grades only stifle it.

It's time for grades to be eliminated.


Closing Statement from Mark Barnes

This conversation was a remarkable experience -- one that gave me plenty to think about and to write about in my upcoming book (ROLE Reversal, ASCD 2012). I believe that many people here seem at least open to the idea of moving beyond the subjective, punitive grading system that we use today. Some still believe that grades are the only way to evaluate learning. It appears from the discussion that, in most cases, this is because they haven't been exposed to formative assessment and self-evaluation over summative testing and grades. Grades are a measuring tool, and not a very good one. The problem is not just grading but the idea that measurements are necessary in the first place. Learning should never be measured. Rather, it should be shared, discussed and evaluated openly; these discussions should be accompanied by objective feedback that guides students to other possibilities and to reflection and self-evaluation.

Upon consideration of all comments here, I remain steadfast in my belief that education needs ongoing narrative feedback. Any other system is arrogant and a mistake.

Thanks to all who participated.

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      Jul 26 2011: If you have to give a grade, I like the idea of giving one like Wolf does. You are also right about parents emphasizing grades. Until parents grasp my results-only system, they often ask about grades. They are perplexed, at first, when I say, "There are no grades." Once they learn the system, all of them embrace it.

      Thanks for your insight.
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          Jul 27 2011: Flexibility, sure; but when it becomes a good thing to skip classes, you're going too far. It's good you went to the library and worked on projects, but if Wolf was so good, why skip his classes? I observed a project to accommodate unruly students who'd been kicked out of school. They were now given tremendous freedom and extra help - they squandered it, and their behaviour remained atrocious. There must be respect and discipline in an organization, else just let people go their own way and don't interfere at all. Get too liberal and things get sloppy. Good that it worked for you though, but not everyone would have good home schooling or be self motivated like you were. You're right, I think, when you say we should have more types of education - perhaps you could suggest a new type as the start of another discussion ;) I bet you have some good ideas.
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          Jul 27 2011: Birdia (forgive me if I misuse your name), I am in awe of you. I am often looked upon by colleagues as weak, because, like your instructor, I am far more concerned by seeing a student learn than by how she learns. I have many students who are labeled as "unruly" by other teachers, yet I have no problems with them at all. This is the essence of a Results Only Learning Environment.

          Many of my students master learning outcomes in different ways. I have had students miss weeks of school for various reasons and still do very well, because they are good at using the tools I provide outside of school. My workshop setting also allows many students to go elsewhere to study, while the remainder of the class stays and works in my room. Each student has individual needs. This is something that is missing in education globally, I think.

          Thanks for your very kind words. I can't change anything by myself, though. People like you and others in this discussion will carry us into new-millennium learning.
        • Jul 30 2011: Hello,Are you a Chinese-American?
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          Jul 28 2011: I think I would have let the Birdia out of her cage ;) I guess art students are a class unto themselves: it's kind of expected that you'll be wild with creative energy and therefore be untameable. As for my degree, I did get it after missing most of my 3rd year, but I didn't get a good grade - if only grades had been abolished.
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          Jul 28 2011: Well, now I seem to have rattled your cage. You seem to misunderstand me as much as I misunderstand you. I love creative people, and have not said otherwise. My comment about the cage was simply to say I would have given you the freedom you needed. Wild and untameable wasn't so serious, but meant as a tongue in cheek compliment, as in creativity that breaks through control barriers. You've added the word 'beast' quite unfairly to exaggerate your attack on my words. I don't know what the stone age has to do with this; you seem to have wanted to add something and grabbed a cliché in anger.I'm not sure what your point is actually; you've not been clear. How was Wolf visionary? The history of the Bauhaus...not familiar with this. What is the main principle you have in mind? Thanks. p.s. as for my 3rd year at uni, I wasn't so mature back then. I have different ideas now.
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          Jul 28 2011: I love the debate you two are having. By the way, you and everyone here who wants change in education are my team.

          Thanks for sticking with this amazing conversation.
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          Jul 29 2011: Hi Birdia. A little bickering is fun, but this could go on and on at the expense of more fruitful debate. I invite you to join me in turning over a new leaf, where we both look for the value and interest in each others comments, and let all the negativity slip away. I hope this is acceptable to you, and I look forward to hearing more of your opinions. Until next time ;) Cheers.
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          Jul 28 2011: many people gave him F, but it wouldn't matter. teachers also gave him F, that's the problem. and i'm also giving him A for being sharp like a scalpel.

          so you get the conversation back on track. this is the problem with grades. in school, the system decides who gets A and who gets F. in real life, it is more diverse. some give F some give A, and all between. this is how people find their place in society. the system's opinion does not count.
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        Jul 29 2011: To eliminate the grading process from our education system implies that many other changes have taken place to render them useless - so in that respect I think it would be a good thing. But realistically speaking I think we would do well as educators to de-emphasize them as it sounds you have done ( does your school system actually allow you to eliminate them all together?!)

        The fact of the matter is children need something that indicates the degree to which a teacher has been pleased with their effort and progress. There is also a developmental aspect to moving through
        the grades that the grading system is cueing in on.

        Then there is the matter of children who come to school with "baggage". They are so distracted
        by their world in tumult that school is an afterthought at best. Giving grades might be the only thing that motivates them. Or not.

        But to get back to the point of grades being necessary or not, I think they should be made meaningless by making changes like Sir Ken Robinson advocates for in education.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thank you again for your excellent insight and contributions to this powerful discussion.
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          Jul 30 2011: There must be TED.com moderators. I didn't delete any comments.
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          Jul 30 2011: Thanks. It's always a pleasure to read your opinions.
  • Aug 10 2011: Mark Barnes,
    It’s nice to see your engagement with educational reform.
    Education today has become a global manifestation; this would suggest that education is a strong societal determinant. I would push this further and suggest the reform cannot pertain to a given space, nor can it be applied to a select group of people. This might be evident, but what actually is the reform, is it a mere reaction to something that alludes to our pre-existing notions on education.

    A "changed" human being compels; the more one changes, the more compelling reform becomes. Fortunately our society is in continual need for change. Advocating pre-existing educational systems often lead to social, cultural, and educational stagnation.

    Reforming education essentially reforms society, people, and ultimately the very thought that incites change.

    I recently graduated from a system unlike any elitist based systems. You might be interested to see how this and other educational systems have attempted to rethink education.
    Centre for Learning, (shortened to C.F.L) is a school based in Bangalore, India
    It would be interesting if you begin to compile a list of different educational systems that have relooked education and found ways to implement reform. Hopefully this helps convey to the masses that reformation is not just possible but also an emerging reality.

    Change comes easier when collaborated collectively with those who hold similar values and practices.

    Manush C J
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    Aug 10 2011: I agree with your proposition that grades should be eliminated from education. In fact, however, I think that particular question, at the secondary level, has been asked and answered. I am speaking here of public education, and I would be happy to take up private preparatory education in a subsequent post.

    Grades are already gone.

    At no time in the last decade of teaching high school and middle school has a single administrator ever once asked me about the grades students receive in my classes. For example, “Mr. Smith, I have a question for you. Why is it that your eighth graders almost always pass your courses with a “B” grade or higher?” Never. Why?

    I believe that grades at the secondary level have already been functionally eliminated and emptied of their meaning by the primacy of standardized testing. I believe that we should eliminate grading systems because they are useless, wasteful, and redundant in the negative sense. At this point we have two grading systems: meaningless grades and standardized test scores.

    I believe that standardized testing in education has the same effect on culture and learning that anesthesia has prior to invasive dental work: “I don’t care what happens next, I just don’t want to feel anything until it’s over or be reminded that it ever happened.”

    Standardized tests are the “grades” of the present and they represent a political move that has nothing to do with students, education, or culture. Standardized tests are seen by elected officials as a way to deliver votes. So long as they do, our public education system will, without fail, remain solidly in the camp of testing all students at every possible opportunity.So long as the results can be manipulated by re-engineering tests and answers, those tests will remain in the hands of educrats driven by dollars.

    Students are not the ones being graded at all, and it's time students received valuable reflections that help them see who they are and what they are becoming.
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      Aug 10 2011: Todd you make excellent points about standardized testing. Also, I'm glad administrators aren't asking you about your grades, but if you're still giving them and they're factored into a GPA, then they still exist.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
    • Aug 12 2011: Nice critique Todd. Standardized tests are only political weapons.
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    Aug 9 2011: I definitely agree that grades should be eliminated, because really what do they show?? nothing, except what we say the should. Just because you get an A in a class doesn't mean that you are "smart" and learned everything. 6 months down the road what will you have taken from that class you got an A in? that's where true learning is. It's what you can take away from a class. I know people who flunked out of high school, but they are the smartest people I know (not all of them, but some).
  • Aug 4 2011: There is one thing that is missing in this process. Narrative feedback isn't good enough if there is no performance standards attached to it. Once you have standards (developed amongst the staff that must use those standards--English teachers set their standards, etc....) there will be more consistency in feedback from teacher to teacher and more clarity of what to the student knows or does not know. Just because you don't have a letter grade doesn't mean you are not allowed to perform up to expectations. It is called standards-based grading and has been successful in many schools. It makes grading more objective with the use of performance rubrics and common assessments from one class to another (that way any English teacher could "grade" the same paper and the "score" would be almost exactly the same).
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      Aug 5 2011: Peter, I realize standards must play a role in assessment. Sadly, this is the system we live in. Most standards are very poorly written and do not account for the different abilities of students.

      Having said this, I believe there's plenty of room for narrative feedback that addresses standards. With learning outcomes properly outlined within a discipline, it would be easy for any teacher to leave feedback, even if a student was not in her class. Thanks for this excellent observation.
      • Aug 5 2011: But using performance is an excellent way to provide differentiation! One student's "3" might be another student's "4." And you are write that most standards are poorly written, but there is work being done on them... good work at that. Besides, one of the most effective ways to make the standards better is to "unpack" them yourself (or even better, with those in your department) to develop standards that work for your particular school.
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    Aug 1 2011: Yes it is.

    The damage that can be done to a child by giving he or she a bad grade often times is irreversible.

    Here's an extract of the transcript ot Aimee Mullins' talk http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_the_opportunity_of_adversity.html which is relevant to the matter at hand:

    There was a case study done in 1960's Britain, when they were moving from grammar schools to comprehensive schools. It's called the streaming trials. We call it tracking here in the States. It's separating students from A, B, C, D and so on. And the A students get the tougher curriculum, the best teachers, etc. Well, they took, over a three month period, D level students, gave them A's, told them they were A's, told them they were bright. And at the end of this three month period, they were performing at A level.

    And, of course, the heartbreaking, flip side of this study, is that they took the A students and told them they were D's. And that's what happened at the end of that three month period. Those who were still around in school, besides the people who had dropped out. A crucial part of this case study was that the teachers were duped too. The teachers didn't know a switch had been made. They were simply told these are the A students, these are the D students. And that's how they went about teaching them and treating them.
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      Aug 2 2011: Helena, thanks so much for chiming in and sharing the link and especially the study. I have heard of the study but haven't seen it.

      This certainly makes sense and underscores exactly what we're talking about here with how damaging grades are.

      Thanks again for your contribution.
  • Aug 9 2011: I want to echo something that Mark is saying, it's important. Understanding Results Only Learning will answer many of the concerns and questions raised. More to the point, being afraid of change, and that is what I hear over and over, is no reason to stop it.

    I believe that parents and communities must act to move forward. Teachers are left to their own devices and thank goodness there are people like Mark who believe so much in learning and in children's abilities to become lifelong learners - that they take on opposition for the betterment of education.

    Let's keep something in mind: Teachers need and deserve our partnership, respect and support. Not everyone can, or should teach. It's a gift, a vocation and in many cases a commitment to doing a "job" for which there isn't even adequate pay.

    Mark is doing something that he has found success with. Hearing about the results his students achieve should make us take notice in a manner that is positive. I definitely see where what he is doing can be so good for kids, although I certainly recognize it's not an answer to the overall problem. But it wasn't mean to be. Looking back at my first response, I missed that.

    We can all cite reasons for why something will fail. That's been explored. I challenge you all to take the viewpoint that it will succeed. Think about it, talk about it. Be open to the change you want to see - it might mean letting go of those carefully guarded perceptions, but TED is a forum for learning and sharing - I hope everyone sees that in order for that to happen, we ourselves must be willing to consider change as progress. I learned from a great teacher (more years ago than I care to admit!) that the best debate is one in which each team can argue each side of the subject on the table. If nothing else, it illustrates our level comprehension more completely.

    If during the course of such debate, you discover something you hadn't known before, "ta-da" learning has been achieved. Which IS the goal.
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      Aug 10 2011: Libbey, your heartfelt comment means a lot to me. I am certainly willing to take on questions, concerns and even negativity. This is why I started this remarkable debate, which people have made the most active on the TED.com conversations site.

      Change is difficult, especially major reform of something that has been the same for so long.

      I believe ongoing discussions, like this one, will make people take notice, and other teachers will begin using results-only learning worldwide.

      Thanks again for you kind words and support.
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    Aug 9 2011: Mark, maybe the problem is the emotional connection that our soceity usually attach to the grades. Grades could be objective in certain aspects. Perhaps the grading systems should start at "A" and no "F" because we are all intrinsically intelligent and good people. http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower

    Narrative feedback is great as it translates into more meaningful care for each student. I also like Salman Khan's idea that we all can learn basic math, science, grammar and values education, with the help of our technologies.
  • Aug 8 2011: Changing student learning assessment isn't enough to effect the overhaul needed in education. As a parent who dis-enrolled her children from a superior-rated school with wonderful teachers and staff, I can attest to this fact:
    Problems in schools aren't born there.
    Issues which adversely affect a child's education begin outside of the school and reflect the problems within the community. Education needs more than just reform, or a change in how we judge performance. Whether we speak of a student's performance or a teacher's - we must look outside that institutional "box" to parents & communities. When any community has a multiple schools which are both private and public, lack of appropriate funding opportunities sets the stage for elitist and often non-diverse systems, which may follow the same state guidelines for education, but whose populace is unbalanced in terms of background - both ethnic and financial.
    Where we live, there are vast differences in the climate in which a child can receive an education. And while it shouldn't be the case, these differences affect our children while in school - and out of school, living in the community. That affect transfers itself to the parents - whether they are taking on the stress of trying to afford a "better" private school or to live in a better school district, or dealing with problems in lower income communities from drugs & gangs - the changes we need to see in our schools are wholly reflective of the problems the community at large faces. Until federal and state funding aids ALL schools, to standardize resources while maintaining the highest level of educational integrity - the differences in income status will continue to build walls and create class segregated schools.
    Creating an environment that is super-charged educationally and child centered means removing ALL barriers that threaten to compromise a child's ability to engage themselves in learning. That starts with social change, with parents and government
    • Aug 8 2011: Libbey. Very well said. I found this article this morning I was going to post in this thread anyway about the cheating scandal in Atlanta schools. I think it reflects very well what you have stated.

    • Aug 8 2011: I used to be a teacher.

      I taught for a while at an elite private academy. Most of the students were delivered by limousine or town car in the morning and the chauffeurs would pick them up at night. They were indifferent students at best and full of entitlement. Little Bushies. Most of them haven't done anything with their lives except join daddies firm. Parasites by and large.

      I also taught in the inner city where some of my students were homeless, or dealt with gang problems or worse. And those students were almost to a person wonderful to deal with once they decided that they could trust me. Half of those students have moved on to become doctors, lawyers and other productive members of society. One of my favorites, Seth, was homeless and yet managed to get all of his homework done (including practicing clarinet every night). He never knew where his next meal was coming from or where he would sleep.

      There is not comparison in my mind. The kids from nothing were more empathetic, caring, creative and motivated than the rich kids. And yet the rich kids will make more money and cause more problems. The USA may be many things, but what we are mostly is an empire in decline filled with citizens who distract themselves from the humanity around them.
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      Aug 8 2011: Libbey, I agree with you, but I'm not willing to wait for parents and government to make the necessary changes, because they will never do so. As a teacher, who understands what students need, I think it's important to act. This is why I run my classroom differently from all traditional educators.

      Thanks for your comment.
      • Aug 9 2011: Hi Mark ~
        I see your point. It is easy for those of us who aren't immersed in the classroom to find a myriad of "what if" potentials. I recognize too your commitment to actually moving forward to effect the change some of us only talk about. And thank you for it. Truly.
        (AND ... I continue to think this is an EXCELLENT debate/question - way to raise awareness.)
  • Aug 7 2011: As a parent, grades and test scores help me get an idea of how my child is doing in relation to expected standards. And according to my expectations. I have 3 children. One is extremely intelligent and can easily achieve straight As. If he gets a B or C that needs to be taken seriously. My other school age child is also very intelligent but not in an academic way. I'm happy with Bs for her. Her strengths such as creativity and independence don't get recognised in the school system very well at this point although I think that ultimately she will be as successful as her brother. Should grades be the be all or end all of everything? Absolutely not. But I would hope that if a child is scoring poorly that the teacher takes the time to work out WHY that child is scoring below expectations and uses it as a starting point to tailor that child's education so that they do have the potential to achieve.
    As a child myself I always liked getting marks because I worked hard and that was one way of recognising that to which anyone could relate. I didn't want to get the same pass score as someone who hadn't worked and who had done the bare minimum.
    Teachers and children need detailed assessments not just a letter grade so that there is some basis for improvement.
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      Aug 7 2011: Donna, I hear so much passion in your words, and as a parent I certainly appreciate this. What I also see is the word "expectation" an awful lot. Expectation can be a very negative word; I try to use it sparingly when teaching. When we hit students with expectations, learning becomes about what the teacher thinks, rather than what the student thinks.

      When my children get report cards, I ask them how they feel about the marks. "Are you happy with what you accomplished? Did you learn? What would you like to improve upon?" Questions like these eliminate expectation and make learning a responsibility that children embrace.

      If you admonish your "A student" for getting a B or a C, then his learning is now about you and your expectations. This is exactly what makes grades deplorable learning killers.

      I appreciate that you were a good student, but you didn't realize as most children don't that you were conditioned to take pride in grades. I would hope that deep down you were really proud of what you had accomplished. I wonder, if you got a grade below an A, did you feel an urge to learn more, or did you feel defeated?

      Students only do "the bare minimum" for one of two reasons: they see the task as useless or they've been defeated by poor grades and feel that, no matter how hard they work, they will fail.

      I hope you'll believe me both as a parent and a teacher speaking from experience, your children don't need grades. Put them in a Results Only Learning Environment, and they'll embrace learning more than ever.

      Finally, I find it interesting that you are willing to settle for less learning from your second child. Consider how your feelings might change if she loved learning as much as the first. Take away the "B or C" label, and she just might.

      Thanks so much for joining the debate.
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    Aug 5 2011: I agree with you. But, for eliminating grades in education, I think teachers should earn more and have less students per class. :-)
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    Aug 4 2011: If you will for one moment, forget 'grading students'. Grades also serve as an indicator to let people know how well the 'teacher' is doing.

    I just dont see how or why I would send my son to a school where the teacher could not be held accountable, as well as, the student. What is mentioned above...sounds like home-schooling, but not every parent or child has the environment for it. In addition, what is so wrong with having both?

    Every teacher who grades now, should be able to provide meaningful narrative feedback as to why the student is being graded what they are.

    I am all for progress and new ideas, but this idea just sounds like an escape plan to stop doing something many believe stifles teachers; not students. I cant help but feel this type of teaching for a child would lead an adult who is socially clueless as to what is expected when finding a job; believing that they can talk their way into or out of something.
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      Aug 6 2011: Steven, I hope all of my students are very capable of talking their way into or out of something. The sort of critical thinking skills required for this are exactly the kind that grow in a ROLE.

      I can't speak much about home schooling, but if it embraces collaboration, autonomy, the elimination of useless methods like homework, worksheets and testing, then, yes, the ROLE is like this.

      I'm not sure how you can judge the quality of a teacher by grades. Let's see, you want to evaluate me on whether my students get good grades, no problem; they'll all get A's. Remember, the teachers give the grades, which is exactly the problem and the subjective nature I've written so widely about that so many people don't seem to understand.

      Sadly, I have the power to "give" any grade I want, even though the letter I give has nothing to do with performance or learning. Yet people continue to say that grades are objective. This assertion is very unreasonable to me.
    • Aug 7 2011: "I just dont see how or why I would send my son to a school where the teacher could not be held accountable, as well as, the student." Steve, there you go being a parent. Don't you know it is 2011? Parents are no longer required to think about the best interest of their child or their development. That is the teacher's job. And, really, Steve, what makes you think you know better than the teacher? Do you hold an advanced degree? Do you have eighteen years of experience with other people's children? If not, shut up - this doesn't concern you, plebe. Just send in your tax dollars and go concern yourself with whatever dreary work you do in the private sector. (Cut to Mike and Mark, nodding in agreement)

      Mark - there is a profound difference between teachers giving grades and students earning grades. That you have repeatedly been so quick to point out your ability to manipulate test grades is starting to make me question your character. Is promoting the ROLE system a way for you to absolve guilt for breaking your own code of honor in the classroom? Stop using the "Yeah but I could be a sack of shit" argument to disqualify honest teachers and the honest, objective system they uphold. You are the only one falling for it.

    • Aug 8 2011: Um - really? Talking your way into and out of things seems to be the MOST desirable job skill these days. It's kept scores of sociopathic business leaders and politicians out of jail. And it certainly seems to be the most desirable and marketable skill in media...

      In what way isn't this preparation for a BS career?
  • Aug 4 2011: I agree with you. I think that learning should be about learning, not who can learn the most or who can learn the best. I think that every person has unique wants and passions and can't simply be placed in a system and have it be expected for them to adapt and succeed in it. I feel that numbers are just a quick, impersonal way to define someone's status so as to save time and effort. But we can't just let a number judge their intelligence or their capability. Someone who didn't get very high grades in English who wants to pursue a graphic arts program (for example) because they feel passionate about art shouldn't be limited to that opportunity because they were 5 tenths off the mark. And yet someone who didn't really care about art, but who had the higher grades, should be able to pursue it because they have a higher number? what does that teach people? that because you are better suited for societies system that you are better suited for being successful? or that because you aren't suited for societies system you must learn to adapt or not be able to accomplish what you want to do?
    I also think that a big problem with the school system these days is that students simply aren't doing what they want. we have access to so much knowledge by just the internet alone that a lot of us have already decided what we're passionate about and what we want. But we have to spend time doing things that we aren't and time being in palces that aren't helping us get to where we wants to be. Surely i can write a 500 word essay on Shakespeare but i think i'd have a much higher grade if i wrote about something i cared about.
    The problem with our generation isn't that we aren't good enough or motivated enough to do anything. It's that we feel that there are too many unimportant things in the way of reaching our goals. We're discouraged. Because we're a generation of imagination, and technology and dreams. and yet we're still living in a society that limits us.
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      • Aug 4 2011: BINGO, Shaken!

        The only people should be encouraging this are,

        a. Teachers - eliminating student's scores also eliminates teacher's scores, now they too can be graded on effort.

        b. Under-performing Students - now no one determines if you are smart but you, kid! Say it with a straight face and it must be true.

        c. Financial Consultants - because we will be making a killing when these morons enter the workforce and need someone to hold their hand from graduation to grave.
        • Aug 4 2011: Why should putting more emphasis on the intrinsic value of learning make someone less competitive? I agree that doing away with grades entirely is not the right choice, but being so focused on competition is not any better. Aren't the leaders of our economy the people who have learned to tap their inner desire to learn more about something?
        • Aug 10 2011: I would like to quote Clarence Darrow who had something to say about competition.

          "A criminal is someone with a predatory instinct who lacked the capital to start a corporation."
      • Aug 4 2011: Wow you just generalized an ENTIRE generation of people! How do you know what all their lives are like?

        edit: Haha well your description describes my educational experience pretty well.... I'm not complaining though
      • Aug 5 2011: Yes, i am appreciative to live in a country with so many opportunities and be part of a generation so advanced. But we aren't talking about the difference between my country and others. we're talking about the education system in mine and other like mine. and thank-you-very-much, i think i have a right to say whatever the hell i want about how I feel about the education system in MY country. I can't speak for anyone else in any other countries and i'm not trying to. Excuse me for speaking my mind, i thought that's what this entire website was devoted to.
        What i said is how i feel and understand the education system to be flawed and i personally would like to change it. It's not that i am unappreciative of what i have, it's that i'd like to use what i have to further myself rather than waste it.
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      Aug 6 2011: Amanda, you have brought a fresh point of view to the debate. Thanks so much for your comments.

      Shaken, regardless of how much or how little someone may have, I'm not sure why this means we should make education boring. I think you may have missed Amanda's point. If I understand her, she wants the right to choose what she learns. She doesn't want to be labeled by a letter that most likely does nothing to define her.
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      Aug 9 2011: Hi Amanda,

      Am I understanding you correctly, that you believe students should not be required to learn things that do not interest them?
  • Aug 3 2011: I have to say that as a teacher (I work as an adjunct professor part time) I think grades are incredibly important to the way students think about the consequences of how hard they choose to work, or possibly how easily something comes to them, and where they stand in general in a class. Now, I don't mean to say that I think the current system is perfect but I think the elimination of grades on the whole is an oversimplified solution to the problem. I agree with the point about meaningful feedback. Ultimately there needs to be the immediate feedback (a ranking system one may say as opposed to a grading system) coupled with a meaningful dialogue about how one can improve their rank (or grade as the case may be).

    I think a major issue that I see in my students is that we as a society have decided to make it too easy for them to fail. By saying that grades are unnecessary I think that we are in turn saying that they are meaningless and that if a student doesn't do well it isn't because of a problem/issue the student has it is because the system is flawed. I think that is a dangerous thought process. In a perfect world, yes having meaningful discourse about how one can improve their efforts towards doing better in a class or school in general would be wonderful; however in that you are assuming that most students want to do better and that is not always true. For that reason I think grades have to stay as a baseline assessment tool and then if you can parse out those that would benefit from a non-traditional feedback mechanism that is where there is room for change.
    • Aug 3 2011: I read your message with the enlighted vision from another TED Talk I was watching yesterday: Alain de Botton's "A kinder, gentler philosophy of success" speech. He was talking about meritocracy, about the underneath competition, how it's great when you succeed... and how it is crushing for those who fail.
      Even the notion of "failure" is linked to that new way of thinking. Alain told us that a century (and maybe a half) ago, a person who didn't reach success was described as an "unfortunate", which has a slightly different meaning from the nowadays "loser" one...

      You told that some children maybe simply seek failure if we don't encourage them through grades. I don't think children seek failure more than others... but maybe they don't seek what others tell them success is.
      Maybe the problem is letting children thinking that if they don't fit in our nowadays school systems, they will fail. And that leads to the point of this talk: since our system doesn't naturally push children towards success in their life, we need to change at least something to our school system.

      I personally have always been afraid of and stressed by the idea to go to school. Why? It is a non-sense. I needed education to have the tools to decide what I wanted to do and to enjoy my own adult life. I knew all that. But that didn't change my feelings about it. And I remember neither my parents or my teachers ever brought me a satisfying answer. And, due to our system, I wonder if they could ever bring it.

      The meritocracy Alain told about has invaded our schools. I am pretty sure a majority of children doesn't feel in a friendly environment at school. They feel competition, reward in case of success, and most of all ridicule if they fail... and of course the "loser" tag virtually stamped on their forehead aswell.

      It's hard to think about a new system because we are not used to it. But we have to try, and for that we need to sweep away our preconceived ideas about what is good or bad in education.
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      • Aug 3 2011: I'm hoping that I understand your question, but ultimately I think the "fear of fair" and the "learning to learn" may come more from how a teacher/educator presents learning to the students than the pressure that a grading system places on them. I think that was alluded to in the previous comment. When I teach I try and convey to my students that it isn't the grade they should be stressed about, but what it represents. The original article said that if you give a student an F they learn nothing, if they get an A they also learn nothing, this again is flawed. I think as a teacher it is my job to make sure they do learn from that F or from that A. I start my class by saying that there are no stupid questions, but the ones that are never asked. I try and make sure that lines of communication are open. If a student of mine gets an F my mind goes to many different options as to why. I try and make sure that they can feel free to talk to me about it. I also try very hard to impart on my students a desire to question, they are always free to discuss their grade as I hope they would feel free to question almost anything presented to them. I think that comes to your last point where learning to learn is something that may unfortunately happen post-formal education. I try and tell my students that while I am their teacher, I will always first be a student. I never purport to know everything and neither should they. Learning comes in different forms, however your mastery of what you have learned has to be quantified, I need to know where I stand in my knowledge base so that I can feel comfortable using that information to make later decisions. Much like you say it influences economy and so forth. For that reason I feel that if a teacher can take the scariness out of learning, an F isn't a shameful thing its an opportunity to understand.
  • Aug 2 2011: I went to a high school where students were given letter grades, but they were based on the student's level of proficiency in meeting 6 competency areas called Learner Expectations. Each paper or project grade was accompanied with an explanation of how well we performed in each LE, which included Complex Thinker, Skilled Information Processor, Effective Communicator, Collaborative Worker, Responsible Citizen and Knowledgeable Person.
    I feel like this was a fairly good compromise between grades and qualitative measures of learning. Unfortunately, many students ignored the Learner Expectations and just looked at the grade, and that is a deeper cultural problem that needs to be fixed.
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      Aug 2 2011: Justin, thank you for this specific information. This sounds like a solid system. I would suggest that if some students ignore the comments in favor of the grade that this bears out much of what I say about grades.

      Imagine the added power of your Learner Expectations, if all students considered them carefully. Minus the letter, they just might do this.

      Thanks for a thoughtful addition to this inspired debate.
      • Aug 8 2011: My high school was part of the Coalition of Essential Schools if you are interested in learning more about the philosophy. Perhaps you have already heard of it.
    • Aug 8 2011: Sounds like an interesting system Justin. Thanks for talking about it. You are so very correct about the "cultural divide" that exists on the question of assessment.
  • Aug 2 2011: The problem is, though, that parents demand a method of knowing what their kids are doing and higher-education requires a way of quantifying a student's aptitude relative to others. If we are to have this, then naturally, competitive students and parents will accentuate the importance of such grades and thereby force everybody else to do the same. This perhaps is a classic case of the stag hunt game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stag_hunt) and because there will always be competitive students, any method of quantification will become like grades.

    As for removing grades altogether, it becomes counterproductive to create alternate feedback mechanisms with more depth due to the fact that such grades must be processed quickly and efficiently for many purposes (such as data-crunching and college admissions). For example, which is better, an "excellent student" or an "excelling student"?
  • Aug 1 2011: If I understand education as a process of discovering potentialities an development, there are two points: first, each person discovers its potentialities and second, other person discover its potentialities.
    Grades are disigned by people who believe that its possible to define the space (school, rooms, ...) and the time in which a person can development its potentialities. I think this in not true anymore. Yes: its time to eliminate grades.
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    Jul 31 2011: Of course it is so easy to agree to your proposal if one knows the dangers of grades - I have two childern and I know this quite well. My answer to the useless grade system was to teach my children not accept any outside judgements as given, as objective or as measures of personality. We need to keep in mind that the grade system is imposed on persons who are just developing their personality - to me this is the worst point of time to apply a grading system.

    Since I needed to help my childern aginst the grade system, I teach them to look at the process of learning of rather than the result of learning. narrative feedback is much better than grades - but still: a higher outside authority tells the story. and of course children in this age of personality building will compare themselves inevitably: which feedback is better than an other? who is the social and intellectual leader in the class ? this peer group dynamic will eat up and misuse the storytelling just as the grades.
    So I would stay with my recommendation even with a storytelling-system: what ever you learned, it is not a measure of your social position or personal development. it is a step in a process each child governs itself - by the way: since my children really do not take school too serious any longer, they are much better at school.

    So said in short. Yes - your idea is an improvement, but No: It is not enough to help to educate.
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      Jul 31 2011: Bernd, I think somewhere along the way you misunderstood my message. I believe narrative feedback is the best replacement for number and letter grades. It is not enough, by itself, to be an education system.

      What I want is to see all teachers create what I call a Results Only Learning Environment, www.resultsonly.com. This is truly a system. It creates a workshop setting, year-long projects that encompass all learning outcomes, collaboration, autonomy and self-evaluation.

      I have seen a ROLE change everything in my classroom.
  • Jul 29 2011: Some thoughts - what grade would you give a child for learning to talk or to walk, to learn the colours of the rainbow or the letters of the alphabet, to ponder the number of stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach, why the sky is blue or the grass is green? How much time would you give a child to learn to walk, before telling him to give up trying, because he stumbles too often and will never be good at it?

    What grade would you give a teen to learn a poem by Keats, admire the paintings of Rembrandt, read the novels of Achebe, study the behaviour of butterflies, or practice double integrals - just because she is fascinated by them. I wonder what grades the old literary and science masters got.

    Not assigning grades is not revolutionary - homeschooling parents have, for a long time, been successfully facilitating their children's learning without grades, without judgement.
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      Jul 30 2011: Hear, hear. Thanks for your insight.

      I give your comment an A. Kidding :)
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    Jul 27 2011: I remember the talk on extrinsic motivation. It was very interesting and I can see how your observations in the health care industry support the assumption. There is one important distinction to be made here, however. We tend to live life at the level of our perception and all of us in this discussion are educated adults doing what we love (hopefully). But what of the 14-year old who loves his English class, but can't stand Geometry? In subjects we love (either fully or at least in part), I can see the argument working. Having taught these delightful, but not always motivated, high-schoolers, these assumptions may or may not work. When teaching pre-service teachers at the college level, it's an entirely different story. Grades are completely beside the point (it's the recommendation letter that counts)

    Now, I think I can predict the response to this :) If they're not motivated to learn these subjects at all, why are we teaching them? Great question! What I'd love to see (at least by the time my grandchildren go to school) is a life-long learning model in which students aged 2-102 follow a self-designed plan of learning based upon their own environment, culture, and interests. For instance, my five year old has been consumed with a love for dinosaurs. She talks about them, sings about them, draws them, and posits theories on their demise. We've taken full advantage of this with books, internet resources, videos, trips to museums, and discussions with family members on what they've learned over the years on the topic. This investigation has covered science, math, art, music, writing, and even a level of social studies not entirely expected (one discussion morphed into a debate over how much funding the city of St. Louis should give its science center to expand dino-related activities) Highly motivating? Absolutely. And with no grade or snack attached. If we can envision a program like this to educate our society, grades would be largely unnecessary
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      Jul 27 2011: Wow, Amy, what you describe sounds exactly like a Results Only Learning Environment, which is built on year-long projects that incorporate all of the learning outcomes from one subject, while integrating cross-curricular objectives, as well.

      Our vision can happen much sooner than later, if we make it so. I started a ROLE a year ago, changing everything. I didn't ask for permission; I just did it. The results were beyond amazing. All it takes is action.

      Thanks for your tremendous input.
  • Jul 27 2011: Mark, maybe we would agree on many things if we spoke. But I'll play devil's advocate here. Open ended proposals are great but not useful unless they can draw atleast a faint line towards on the ground implementation (probably this is very non-TEDish). Narrative feedback does not change the game at all. My 2 cents below (I am not teacher and not an expert at anything :))

    - Central idea #1: 'Bad grades demotivate students'. Honestly speaking that really depends on how the teachers and parents explain to kids what a bad grade means. It means you need to work harder and not give up. Add narrative feedback to that and students will have clear direction to channelize thier efforts. The next test would be indicator of actual improvement. I dont see why, if improvement was made as per narrative feedback, the grade won't improve. I do beleive that an earlier bad grade should not stick with a student for life once he has made effort to change it.

    - Central idea #2: 'Grades dont indicate anything about learning'. This is true in specific cases but mostly false in a gerneral sense. Student with 'A' might not necessarily have more knowledge about a subject than one with 'B', but any experiment will show (I have no evidence to back this up, this is an educated guess) clear difference in understanding of subject matter between a student with 'A' and one with 'F'.

    - Central idea #3:'Thirst for learning (as an instinct) can be ignited or detroyed by any kind of grading system'. Current system or any other alternate system of evaluation will not affect this. Learning is a personal quest. No doubt that certain environments, people, stories or encounters ignite a thirst for learning in most of us. That is the only true motivation for pure learning and is independent of what grades you get OR how much money you are paid.
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      Jul 27 2011: Ajay, I appreciate you playing Devil's Advocate. Here's my response to your 3 central ideas:

      Idea 1: Asking students with F's to not give up and try harder is fine and good, if it worked, but it doesn't. Students receive low grades because they are bored with the work and/or find no value in it. An endless stream of F's only serves to make them feel like they'll never achieve anything, so they don't. I have 17 years of experience on this one, and this is a cycle that never ends. F students continue to fail. Students with A averages "top out," and don't tend to try. Soon they are pressured at home to maintain A's, so many cheat.

      Idea 2: The research on grades and their connection to achievement is actually overwhelming, and it says that there's virtually no connection (read anything by Alfie Kohn, John Hattie, Stephen Krashen or Daniel Pink). My own experience -- nearly 3,000 days in the classroom, over 60 grading periods with roughly 2,000 students -- indicates that a D/F student is in many cases just as smart as an A/B student. There are many factors that lead to low and high performing students. Raw intelligence is rarely one of these factors.

      Idea 3: Thirst for leaning is analogous to reading. Students in grades K through 3 typically love reading, because they are learning to read, which opens new worlds to them. Starting in grade 4, students begin reading to learn, and this is where most students begin to hate reading. Thirst for learning works the same way. As soon as students are anchored by traditional methods -- homework, worksheets, quizzes and grades -- their thirst for learning dissipates. You are right about the environment, though. A Results Only Learning Environment is the only kind that will ignite a thirst for learning.

      Thanks for contributing to this debate.
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    RJ Dake

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    Jul 27 2011: I wonder if the debate doesn't miss something that many educators would recognize. We accomplish nothing by offering a negative but offering a positive with no factual basis becomes worthless ... "every child an 'A'" is a failing score as much as "no one makes the grade."

    What is significantly more important, and this can be extended to employee evaluations, social measures ... maybe even Angie's List, is that we need to find recognition for success and for the skills posessed. I'm not being "Polyanna," I am noting that encouragement provides productive energy and the converse nets demoralization. Are we hoping for a productive society or a destructive one? Education, as the body most responsible for transmission of culture, must have a realignment of focus.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the slogan or the purveyor, "Yes we can!" struck a cord. Our nation hungers for ANY affirmation and most will reward affirmation with affirmation or productivity. We need to reconsider what we want from education and put aside our traditions enough to implement what we have understood for decades will be more productive and beneficial for our future. We need to invite students, children, and those around them to SUCCEED!

    RJ Dake
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      Jul 27 2011: Hey RJ, I don't think this is "Polyanna" at all. In fact, I believe we need many more people echoing your sentiments from the mountaintops.

      I believe results-only learning provides the kind of affirmation you're alluding to. It's not stickers and "good jobs." However, it creates the freedom of choice in learning that is sorely missing, which affirms the value of all learners. Students in a Results Only Learning Environment feel good about themselves and develop a remarkable thirst for learning, because they are not punished by traditional methods and meaningless letter grades, even A's.

      Thanks so much for your meaningful feedback.
  • Jul 27 2011: Yes.(!) But why stop there? (not to say you would) I think the very word 'education' is the problem.

    Education implies a sense of rigidity; a system. Within rigidity and systematization, I believe that this 1-dimensional approximating (of that which to characterize as n-dimensional would still be grossly misleading -- we might as well give out clay mouldings instead of report cards), which we call 'grading', is a foregone conclusion.

    Learning, I believe, is the goal; education is our current solution. Education is about worldly knowledge, but learning, I believe, also includes self knowledge.

    The information age brings an abundance of worldly knowledge. It seems to me that the underlying assumption of any given high school curriculum is that there's an information shortage; to the point that self-knowledge is secondary, if at all acknowledged.

    In this way, I contend that grades, to which knowledge level can be (relatively) easily mapped, were useful decades ago. But knowledge is trivial now, knowing yourself is not; education is easy, learning is more profound.

    So I say: Why not have students teach and evaluate each other? Not just as an exercise, but as an intrinsic part of the institutional culture.

    Consider the nuances involved in explaining anything to anyone. The ego-taming involved. The creativity to come up with the right explanation of the right length for a specific person in a specific situation. The joy of sharing that "Oh, I get it!" moment.

    Consider the difficulty of evaluating anybody or anything. The trauma and humility of being wrong about it. The self-reflection that uncovers hypocrisy. The compassion that follows in suit.

    I admit that designing a system that makes this practical would be a huge challenge. However, this could be far more scaleable: Teacher shortage? The students are the teachers!
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      Jul 27 2011: Chan, your understanding of what I 'm trying to do is amazing. You're absolutely right that using narrative feedback is only the beginning. What I want is a Results Only Learning Environment, which embraces the self-evaluation, autonomy and intrinsic motivation you speak of so eloquently.

      I love your term, "ego-taming." I agree completely that getting students involved in self-reflection and evaluating one another is critical to 21st-century learning. This is where a ROLE comes in. I hope you'll read more about it at www.resultsonlylearning.com and comment there as well.

      Thanks so much for your invaluable insight.
      • Jul 29 2011: Wow.....I love your website. If you are a parent, I envy your children.

        It's knowing that there are people like you doing these kinds of things that forms the basis for my fundamental optimism about the world.

        Thank you for this opportunity to vent, and I sincerely wish you success in your endeavours.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thanks for your kind words and support, Chan. I am a parent of two wonderful kids, a boy, 8, and girl, 7.

          Thanks again.
    • Jul 27 2011: Please define for me "self knowledge." Are you talking philosophically? Spiritually? Needs wise? Knowledge of emotions, values, morals, what?
      • Jul 29 2011: For me, self-knowledge is ultimately realizing how alike I can be to anyone.

        I believe philosophy, morality, spirituality are logical outcomes.

        The elements that form, what I call self-knowledge, can be a list as rich as what would constitute worldly knowledge.

        Here are some that come to mind:
        - Recalling thought-chains and their causalities (e.g. Why am I thinking about rabbits? Oh, because this just happened, then I thought this, etc)
        - Being able to identify not only instances of long-lasting, obvious emotions, but also short bursts of subtle emotions, their causes and their physical manifestations (e.g. breaking eye contact the moment an uninteresting discourse begins, shaking legs at the onset of restlessness, etc.)
        - Empathy; the acquired skill of considering what must be going on in someone else's head (important!)
        - Understanding why some details are remembered and others are not (i.e. memory skills)
        - Likes/dislikes/disinterests, and recalling the chain of events that have led to them and understanding how they affect your decisions
        - Understanding the mechanics of your own attention (what grabs it, what does not) and ultimately having control over it

        Essentially, I think self-knowledge is understanding the mechanics of your self (the thing that Thandie Newton discusses in her talk).

        The educational systems I have experienced either consider self-knowledge as non-existent, unimportant, as common-sense and/or something that is magically acquired with the passing of time and subsequently undeserving of any serious attention.

        I believe that changing this can be one of the great opportunities of our generation.
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          Jul 29 2011: I agree and it was interesting to read your list. Our minds are not under our complete control a lot/all of the time (possibly an understatement), and self-mastery is perhaps the grand pursuit of all knowledge. With a solid foundation of self awareness, I'm sure anyone can achieve much more. Doubts, distractions, inappropriate emotion; even neuroses, paranoia, obsessive compulsions and so on, can affect performance dramatically. These deleterious manifestations are common, and often mild enough to go undiagnosed, but have huge accumulative effects. But the whole territory is so complex, how could schools teach anything about it? Does anyone understand it, really - so who would teach? I think making school a safe place to be definitely helps, so students are not afraid or intimidated, and can express themselves fully - minimize bullying for example. Perhaps bullying is another symptom of an overly rigid system and ROLE could eradicate this as well, as seems to be the claim (given there are no discipline issues), so there's another possibly huge plus. I'm not sure grades or feedback apply to self-mastery, do they?
      • Jul 30 2011: Ian,

        I agree that the territory is complex. But at the same time, I don't think we need to break it down into its elements and teach those elements one at a time.

        I have three ideas in this respect:
        1. Students should teach other students
        - I estimate that it requires a great degree of self-mastery to actually accomplish teaching

        2. The art of conversation and listening should be taught
        - I think deep, balanced and meaningful conversation can only be had with sufficient self-mastery

        3. Meditative practices with neuro-metric feedback should be implemented

        1 and 2 can be coupled with video recordings of those sessions for later review. I think watching ourselves on video is strangely instructive.

        3 may be a real possibility in the near future. With more and more research being done on the neurological correlates of meditative practices (e.g. Mind & Life Foundation), it may become possible to measure the progress of meditative practices such as Vipassana and the like. And if this can be done on simple EEG devices that are beginning to proliferate (think Emotiv Systems), I think meditative practices deserve serious attention.
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          Jul 31 2011: Hi Chan. I like the thoughtfulness of you comments. Certainly, when one teaches something, one's own knowledge and understanding grows. It was surprising to discover many of the problems foreign students have with English, and I had to learn a lot to be able to guide students through language patterns that I had just taken for granted. I think students would benefit a lot from this, both in terms of subject mastery, and social skills. Their maturity and responsibility towards each other would increase - this all sounds great. The art of conversation and listening would have to develop to meet these goals. As for meditation, I'm aware of dozens of practices and I think it would be very difficult to standardize anything across an educational stysem. It's a much more controversial area. So, the authorites could allow each school free choice about incorporating different elements of meditaion into their syllabi, but I wouldn't make it compulsory. Keep it as an extra-curricular activity because I think it's a very personal pursuit and still a minority activity, despite growth in it's popularity. Brain scans to measure progress (however you'd define progress) is still science fiction, I think, but of course sci-fi today can be old hat tomorrow :)
    • Jul 29 2011: Look, as a semi-recent high school graduate who learned more outside of school on my own than in, I think grades suck and are a great way of rewarding people who put way too much effort into wasteful tasks. The reason why I graduated 60th in my class but was voted most likely to succeed was because I knew things that mattered. As much as I hate grades, they're a necessary evil.

      I'll give you that if we lived in small communities and didn't need skilled professions we could throw grades out the window today. The problem is a secondary education doesn't get you anything in our complex society. People have to go to college. Employers have to hire a limited number of people. You can't say, "John got a gold star in sharing, empathy, math, and reading. He would be a great addition to your university." At least not if there are ten thousand other people with gold stars. You can't say "John was a great engineering student at our university" without an objective measure of how well he mastered advanced math and expect him to get a job anywhere.

      Find a real way to satisfy universities and employers without grades and I will campaign it all day long.

      Grades are necessary, but the learning can be altered. Kahn Academy has the best vision I've seen on where learning needs to go. Let's find a way to get the technology into kids' hands now.

      College isn't for everyone. Let's stop teaching math and science to those who have no interest in it. Business skills are much more practical and applicable. Let's get everyone who doesn't want to go to a university in a trade school or starting their own business. Leave the grades to kids who want to go to college.

      I'm all for teaching philosophy, but teaching should not BE philosophy. Socrates wasn't trying to build planes, computer networks, or manage finances.

      Change how curriculum is taught, not how it is evaluated.
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        Jul 29 2011: Brian, the Results Only Learning Environment changes everything, not just evaluation. There are no traditional methods at all, and meaningful narrative feedback creates a real thirst for learning in students.

        Real feedback isn't saying a student got a gold star. You can see examples at my blog, www.resultsonlylearning.com.

        Thanks for weighting in.
      • Jul 30 2011: Brian,

        I think you present a very practical view of what can be changed.

        However, I take exception to your implying that empathy is somehow easy or unimportant. And I also find that your 'gold star' example is exactly the kind of disinterest in self-knowledge that I think is the source of one of our generation's greatest opportunities.

        You mention that business skills are much more practical and applicable. What are these exactly? What is involved in networking? What is involved in customer service? What is involved in negotations? What is involved in a good business decision? What is meant by "It's business, not personal"? I contend that it is exactly the things that are involved in what I call 'self-knowledge' that form the basis for what you call 'business skills'.

        In fact, I love your idea! Entrepreneurship as a mandatory part of the curriculum would be amazing. Your grade would be the accomplishments of your enterprise.
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        Jul 31 2011: Hi. I agree with much of what you said. I think we have to be careful not to separate students too soon, but having a less academic route for those who'd rather get into a trade faster is the right approach, I think. Refering to Chan's comment, I don't think you were saying empathy is unimportant, but just difficult to measure and not a substitute for grades. I had a look at Kahn Academy. I haven't had time yet to judge how good it is, but I agree there's a big furture for on-line lessons. I love them: so convenient, and once the market provides a good choice of providers, schools could be almost exclusively for projects and collaboration, not learning the data. At school, you have the teacher you're given; on-line, you can pick and choose, mix and match. Now I have to take up maths again! Cheers.
  • Jul 25 2011: Rediculous. If the entirity of your argument is that grades are subjective to the teacher's feelings, you're wrong. In science, laws and theories are developed upon structures of objective observation, of diligent and tireless testing, and of strict mathematics. Those mathematics are developed upon the rigidity and consistancy of the numerical system. Such a system is understood through language, the structure of which consists of vocabulary, vocabulary consisting of: a) the rules of spelling, the basis of sound translated upon paper, and b) definition, the understanding that such sounds have meaning; and grammar, which is the framework that gives words complexity, depth, and context.

    Where is the subjectivity in any of these subjects? If your mysterious female student didn't study and didn't know the material, she deserves to know she didn't do her work. If she did study, if she grasps the material, that student deserves to know she's on the right track. The grading system works well in this respect. And it works well in the case of a child having studied and still failed. This should be the first sign that additional work is needed, a sign that the child should not quit, but approach the teacher for "meaningful feedback," as is their right, and that the teacher should provide feedback and resources, as is their job. Knowledge is a personal pursuit. If it's to be obtained, their must be a personal drive behind it. Those who chase the grades don't understand the meaning behind the knowledge. They are inconsiquential--they don't matter. Those who strive towards that understanding and seek to better it are the ones who should, and do, benefit the most from it.

    Your approach would lead us into an undefinable, unmeasurable state of learning--would likely be more subjective. If anything, the grading system should be even more strictly adhered to so as to not devalue the A, nor "equalize" the F, as is the case with the "No Child" act.
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      Jul 25 2011: Jarret, I'm not sure who the "mysterious female" you speak of is, so I can't address that. I don't understand your diatribe about "laws and theories" etc. You write like someone who likes to debate, but your points are so poorly presented that it's difficult to debate with you.

      I wonder what experience, if any, you have to back up any of whatever it is you're trying to say.

      Incidentally, if I had only written that your comment deserves a C, what would you think?
      • Jul 27 2011: Since I gave points and examples about the objectivity already present within school and stated that an objective law requires objective systems of learning, and since you asked your question and replied with no such example of your own, I'd think you were a troll for trying to bate me with a "C". If you have a logical reason for wanting to change it, please explain.
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          Jul 27 2011: I agree with what you are saying Jarret, but I also believe Mark is correct in that children do need more meaningful feedback than they are currently given. However, to achieve what Mark is asking for would require more time and resources than most teachers are currently equipped to handle. Simply put, we need more teachers and smaller class sizes if they were to personally monitor each of their students and focus on the specific areas the students are struggling with. Unfortunately, with the public education system as underfunded as it is and the current economic climate we are weathering, I don't see any way this will improve.
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          Jul 27 2011: Petros, you are right that we need more teachers. In order to be most effective, especially using narrative feedback; smaller class sizes are necessary. However, we can't continue with a flawed system just because we have classes of 25-30. With practice, teachers can learn to be just as effective with narrative feedback as they can be giving grades, even in large classes. Like anything, it's a skill that has to be mastered.

          Thanks for chiming in on this.
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      Jul 25 2011: Jarret. You said "In science, laws and theories are developed upon structures of objective observation, of diligent and tireless testing, and of strict mathematics". That is absolutely true, but these theories are continuously being examined and studied for clarity and potential imperfections. Over time flaws have been found in every theory ever created; possibly without any exception. As far as my understanding goes our current structure, or formula you may say of education has remained relatively unchanged since the around 17th century. This system of academic measurement is far beyond outdated. It's measurement is purely linear and based on qualities that are no longer needed. Our current system of grading is squandering our students creative and cognitive capacities. Now tell me how that is objectively and mathematically sound.

      However I do believe Mark might be wrong by saying that all grades need to be removed entirely from our schools, but what I do believe is what we have in our schools right now has absolutely no place in our society. This system must be entirely removed and replace with a system that gives a much broader, and in depth measure of a students abilities. One that has a much larger and accurate scale, whcih has room for improvement for the student and the system ifself.
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        Jul 25 2011: Jesse, thanks for bringing clarity to the subject. You're absolutely right about the system being flawed; I write about this extensively in my book. With plenty of loud voices, like the ones sharing their thoughts here, we may just make a remarkable change.

        Thanks for your insight.
      • Jul 27 2011: I actually wanted to go into what you said about science but I ran out of room. Your right, and as such discoveries are made, schools should update there knowledge of them accordingly. That doesn't mean, however, that there was not any rigorous testing that went into these new theories; likely, it's the opposite, as "proven" theories can be much harder to change. As we define the laws, so do we refine the tools used to measure them, refined not by how we feel aboout them, but by the logical procession of wants to needs. It is still objectivity that rules.

        Now I've seen the people in here going on about how the system is flawed. I think it is straightforward and simple. Perhaps you could elaborate upon some of the systems weaker points for me.
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          Jul 27 2011: The related talk in this page does a much better job than I think I can ever do at summarizing the system's weaknesses. I highly suggest you watch it as well as other talks by the speaker if you wish to learn more.
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      Jul 25 2011: Hi. You seem to have misunderstood Marks argument, and thrown in some comments about a few other arguments that we've not been privy to. ;) However, entwined in the twists and turns of your C grade effort (just kidding) was a valid point, I think, about the exactness of science/math, and therefore the possibility of meaningful grades that do objectively represent ability, and then feedback can be added afterwards.
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        Jul 25 2011: Ian, I would certainly be willing to add narrative feedback to grades (in fact, I am still bound by my district to give a final report card grade to my students). I simply don't see the need for the grade.

        As much as I appreciate your interpretation of Jarret's argument, my experience tells me that grades are not in the least bit objective. Grades in most schools come from an accumulation of points, awarded to individual activities, projects and tests. The problem is the arbitrary nature of these numbers. For example, if I assign a written response to a novel we've read, I may decide that the response is worth 100 points. Upon reading the essay, I may feel that it merits a score of 80/100, based on some subjective rubric. I can almost guarantee that if I give the same essay and rubric to another teacher, the score will deviate by as much as 10 percent. So, who is right? More importantly, how do these numbers help the student understand his writing abilities.

        Later the same student gets a 70/100 on a test. Of course, the test questions may not have been a fair assessment of his knowledge either, and if a different teacher created the test, he may have scored higher. Now, he has 150/200 for a grade of C. Although there is math involved, it is definitely not objective.

        However, if I provide specific details about what writing skills are mastered and which need work, and allow the student to return to the essay and change it, in order to demonstrate mastery, then we've done something truly remarkable.

        Thanks again for your part in this amazing debate. You have much to offer.
        • Jul 27 2011: Essays on novels are opinions based upon opinions. I've never understood how someone could get a lower grade than 100% on an essay based upon what they took from any reading (other than bad mechanics). That's something elseI'd like to know. Are you an english teacher?
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          Jul 27 2011: @ Jarret - Don't know about Mark, but I am! And my students can tell you that I am willing to listen to just about any well-reasoned (and/or entertaining!) argument they can dream up.
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          Jul 27 2011: Sure, no system is completely objective or fair. That's life. The grades my English teacher gave me always seemed to represent the work I'd put in, and it was nice to have my effort acknowledged. At other times, such as my F for french, the grade did indeed make me dislike the subject. Thankfully, I'm now quite good at french and enjoy it again, but some good feedback at the time would have helped a lot. So I see benefit in both tools, depending on how they're used. You see, unfair feedback notes could also cripple my motivation as much as a bad grade.
          Here's my next question, should you desire one ;) You've mentioned several times that you tell a student when they've mastered something. How do you decide they've mastered it? The label of 'Mastery' sounds like an A grade to me.
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        Jul 27 2011: Yes, I am an English/language arts teacher (17 years in grades 7, 8 and 10). I used to score essays, using points, percentages and grades and, yes, some students received less than 100 percent. The problem wasn't the score. The bigger issue was that my students rarely got a chance to demonstrate mastery learning. They received their score, based on a rubric or some other formula I created, and then we moved to the next activity. In the long run, most students were hurt by the grade and didn't learn much.

        I have changed my classroom into a Results Only Learning Environment, where project-based learning, collaboration and student autonomy create mastery. So, to stick with the essay example, when my students write, we focus on various mini lessons on the fundamentals of writing. (Jarret is right; it's difficult to evaluate opinion.) With narrative feedback, I can explain which learning outcomes were mastered and which were not. Then, I ask students to return to the activity and make changes or additions, based on my feedback and their review of a prior lesson.

        This way, they can know they've learned, and they are never punished by a low score or percentage.

        Thanks Jarret and Sushan for keeping the debate going.
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        Jul 27 2011: Ian, the mastery question is a wonderful question, and a tricky one, too. You are right in that it can sound like an A. Typically, students never reach mastery until they've made numerous changes and additions to something. So, though this is a subtle distinction, my feeling is that mastery is reached through trial and error. In the grade world, students typically get one grade, then move on to something else.

        Plus, mastery for one student may be different from that of another. In other words, differentiating instruction is easier with narrative feedback, I believe.

        Hope this helps.
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          Jul 28 2011: Thanks. I'd certainly like to see all this in action, especially with some of the most difficult students I've encountered. Actually, the really troubled students are troubled for reasons exterior to the education system (in part anyway), so it wouldn't be fair to test your system on them - fascinating to try it though. I can see how it would motivate most students. I'll take a look at your on-line material. At the moment I'm only working with individuals anyway, but I could improve the feedback I give them. Do you think there are any drawbacks to your system? Even great sytems have small weaknesses in my experience. Have you had any difficulties with it at all?
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        Jul 28 2011: Hmm., another good question, Ian. I'd say the biggest drawback is that more people aren't using results-only learning. It reminds me of when online grading systems were first introduced. Not many teachers were interested in giving up their old hard-copy grade books.

        When I tell colleagues about results-only learning, they are more than skeptical. "What do you mean you don't grade?" they ask incredulously. "No rules and consequences? How do you control your classes?" "How do you assess if you don't give unit tests?" Most think I'm crazy; some even think I'm a bad teacher.

        Today, no one uses a hard-copy grade book; the mere thought of it would seem outlandish. As long as I continue to tout results-only learning, I know it will one day be as trendy as the online grade system.

        So, the simple answer to your question about weaknesses is that the ROLE is so new that it scares people. I have to deal with the naysayers. Sometimes it gets tiresome, but I forge ahead.
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          Jul 28 2011: it's like writing on stones was harder, so they had to value what they write to be written on stones, I think that was a tough job

          then moving to paper books, writing becomes easier, they don't have to bother about the value of what to write that much........

          soon no need to use resources to manufacture paper no longer (the case of digital books)
          most importantly to creating a cheaper devices for digital books......... we say this era is about technology but we can't create another device!

          we can utilize the resource to something more efficient
          time has changed we can't stick to old traditional books

          I don't care what people think, give them some time they will value what they have later
          & consider better services offered due to costs reduction (for producers of paper books)

          grading system, people don't know what it's like to just attend courses or know it by experience, people have see a raw model so they keep him as a bench mark to match their performance with
          the human being has a wonderful feature, coping, but they prefer what they know
          so systems must be more informative
          enlighten people to the better
          or ...I like this one, give them the option for some time
          you can chose a paper book (with extra costs) or a digital one (with a title environment friendly)

          Friends & colleagues tell stories how different, experiencing getting training in certain corporations or business is
          they add + my assumption about "coping", this gives education, in current structure, less importance in this era

          some might argue, issues about education & medicine (they criticize how would doctors and/or scientists do trial & error on humans!)
          well, that what was happening for ages, but given current experiences, facilities & information their chance to do mistakes has reduced to minimum or zero

          now, what if students were with grades of A, A+
          what difference will it make!
          still they are following what they have been told only
          chances to come up with newer ideas is something different
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          Jul 28 2011: I haven't heard the term Results Only Learning before, Mark, but much of what you say is being taught in teacher training and done in many schools. The movement is away from lectures, multiple choice, worksheets, etc. and into multiple modalities, student-driven instruction, leveraging technology (and I am with you, I love having my students bring in whatever new gadgets they've got - if every student owned an iPhone, our equipment budget would drop dramatically), etc.

          When you say that you have no discipline issues in the ROLE classroom, sounds like you mean what are traditionally perceived as discipline issues - staying in your seat, no talking, basically, all those behaviors that are intrinsic to kids and make you wonder who is setting who up for failure!

          The language of mutual respect is powerful.
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          Jul 29 2011: You certainly are forging ahead. I read your website and listened to the Symposium preview. Good luck with that tomorrow and well done for what you've already achieved! Keep repeating the same positive message and it'll get through eventually. It sounds like you're classroom is quite noisy; I'd be taking advantage of the 'work anywhere' policy as I like peace and quiet, but I guess others like the interaction. Out of interest, what proportion of students give themselves an A for their report card? Are there many who give themselves average grades, and how do you feel about that - not the grade (I know how you feel about those by now) but the students perception of themselves? Should they be confident about an A, or a little self-critical too?
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          Jul 30 2011: @Mark, I'd like to reiterate Ian's question from before. As a classroom educator, what specific trouble-shooting, issues, adjustments have you as a teacher had to make in the pricess of implementing ROLE? I know that I have systems in place that work in my classroom, but also that none of them are perfect. What evolutions have you made in your understanding of ROLE?
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        Jul 28 2011: Yes, Sushan, you are right about discipline issues. These trivial things trouble many traditional teachers, because they haven't yet let go of control.

        Glad to hear ROLE strategies are being used in teacher training where your from. Where is that? I'd like to hear more.
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          Jul 29 2011: I can't agree more about the discipline issues piece. My first year or so of teaching made me realize really quickly that is was generally not the kid, but ME. I'm not syaing that there are never any problems in terms of student behavior, but if I keep my students' needs in mind as I'm designing, there are many less. And, yes, most of us have a need to not be needlessly bored!

          I live and work in New Mexico (hardly known as a bastion of educational success or reform but we're trying!)
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        Jul 29 2011: Ian, I appreciate the sentiments. Although I do have more A's in my class, you'd be amazed at how many assign lower report card grades to themselves.

        I've had as many as 34% give themselves lower grades from one quarter to the next. Some are very self-critical.
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          Jul 29 2011: Yes, but I think it's ok so long as they're acknowledging room for improvement, which they now recognise, rather than feeling failure. However, if the grades get lower from one quarter to the next, I'd say there's something to be addressed. Interestingly, if you abolished grades, this indicator of the students perception would be lost. Could it be that self-grading is better than no grades?
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        Jul 30 2011: No, Ian, I don't think perception of learning would be lost without the grades. I would always have students self-evaluate, based on two-way narrative feedback. I would still have performance review at the end of a grading period. The verbal and written feedback would always indicate the learning.

        Honestly, I believe a lot of students grade themselves down, because there is so much integrity in the system. I had one student, typically an A-B student in other classes, grade herself from an A to a D in one marking period, because she struggled on a major research project. She told me she gave herself the D because she hadn't met the guidelines. She knew this without the grade. Best of all, she wanted to return to the project and demonstrate mastery, even though the grading period was over.

        That's the power of he ROLE.
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          Jul 30 2011: I agree. I wouldn't bother with the self-grading either, but self-evaluation is a powerful mechanism when done with integrity. I have no more questions at the moment, but will continue to watch this space :) Thanks a lot.
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        Jul 30 2011: Sushan, the most challenging part of the ROLE has been to remain steadfast in its philosophies when being pushed by students and colleagues. The rare occasion when students say, "Why can't you just give me a grade like my other teachers?" presents a challenge that must be faced.

        It's important to constantly reflect on each day and think about what must be done to get around issues like this one.

        Sometimes colleagues question results-only learning. Some say that when I don't grade their students, it breaks down the system. Again, it's critical to continue fighting the fight.

        Finally, I'm always building year-long projects. I feel that my projects can always improve. I want to create more choices for students and encourage them to demonstrate learning outcomes in their own ways. It's a lot of work, so I'm reminding myself why I do it.
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          Aug 1 2011: Thanks, Mark - I really appreciate the "in the trenches" feedback. I know that I have had several conversations that sound like what you quoted above with my students as well. That up-front honesty and clarity with them pays off big time for all concerned in my (much less than yours) experience. Is there a place I can go to see some o0f the projects that you have created in years past? I am interested to see the structure of your planning and how you use mini-lessons. Too bad our offices are so far apart! Thanks for opening this one up!
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        Aug 2 2011: Sushan, hopefully, you'll read my blog, www.resultsonlylearning.com. I'll update throughout the year with specifics on the ROLE system.

        Thanks for contributing.
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      Aug 2 2011: Helena tu estas afirmando algo que no siempre es posible demostrar. El daño no es irreversible si el gradio o calificacion es merecido. No debemos temer por una calificacion. Lo que debemos temer es no estudiar o no saber estudiar cuando un mal maestro o profesor toma la clase.
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    Jul 25 2011: I am not sure that eliminating grades per se is the answer. We still need a yardstick to determine whether the material has been mastered. I would prefer to see a cumulative measure of competence in each area. Did the person actually comprehend what % of the material, in what areas and what needs improvment? Is it sufficient to go on to the next level. I think that we need to start educating people on a continuum rather in lock step with others. The bright child needs to be able to whizz along until they hit the obstacle that needs more intensive teaching and kids who need more help in an area should get it while learning mastery and success in areas that they are talented in.
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      Jul 25 2011: Yes, abolish class teaching and have individual learning programs that students get through at their own pace, with teachers being mobile between students to help where necessary - this requires a basic training in study skills, because students would have to be far more autonomous than they are used to.
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        Jul 25 2011: Hi Ian, yes, I think that the lock step approach is absolutely killiing kids and their creativity. Putting passionate learning on hold until the least interested/able kid gets it is just too damaging to potential. This is where I think computerized learning and games can really be brought in to feed the natural human inclination to learn.
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          Jul 25 2011: The use of games and computers is very interesting. I was recently involved with an 'edutainment' company. I think you should start a new discussion about this as it deserves it's own space :)
  • Jul 25 2011: I agree with the point of view of Salman Khan (Khan Academy). That whether a student gets an A or a D is irrelevant if they don't go on to master the subject, i.e get 100%. That is, even getting an A is insufficient if there are loopholes in knowledge and the class simply moves on to the next topic.

    From a maths point of view, I believe the system should switch from a letter system to the more precise system of simply having a percentage score. And the percentage score should be accompanied with verbal feedback as to which parts of the topic the child is having difficulty with and should focus on. Feedback should also address the level of effort that the teacher understands that a child put in.

    From an English point of view, grades should not exist in any form because marking of essays is highly subjective. Instead focus should once again be on verbal feedback and the teacher should highlight their general impression of the piece and this should be accompanied with an understanding of the level of effort put in by the student as well as very specific criteria with regards to how to improve the piece.

    Letter grades can have many things associated with them and can, as such, modify the way a student works in the classroom. On one hand, students can strive to achieve the elusive A (however if the system was reformed and all students worked hard on their own weaknesses then I'm sure there would be just as much of an improvement). On the other hand, students can become branded with the label of being a B or C student and this can lead to the self fulfilling prophecy of the marks they expect and get. Similarly, if a student consistently gets low marks, this can lower their confidence in themselves and they will stop trying to improve.

    Students' main goal in school should be to learn as much as possible, not to get an mark which is ultimately insignificant.
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      Jul 25 2011: Julian, I agree in most areas. Thanks for your insightful feedback.
      • Jul 25 2011: I'm interested to know which areas you don't agree in.
        • Jul 25 2011: I do get "A"s but I don't think they were well-earned. To me it felt more like cranking physics / financial formulas, learning the optimized methodical approach to making templates for questions, predicting what my biology teacher was going to put as multiple choice on tests, what meaningless essay / poem will I have to analyze (most consisted of themes of discrimination, oppression of freedom, etc), the "technical aspects" of essays (style / POV / references / paragraph structure / flow ) than the actual content/analysis of itself, how well I could manually follow picture by picture tutorial to do tedious tasks on Siblieus for music or IT-Business, etc. If anything, I did less well on subjects that gave me no relevant pointers to why I was learning what I was learning and did better on subjects that used my capacity to think, use the information I had and come up with some sort of conclusion or analysis of historical or future events and what possible benefits / downfalls are involved at play or what other inter-dependencies would alter this problem or what approaches may be the best from a systematic level.

          As much as I could and wish to validate my current 13 years of education, I could only find joy in informing others as a tutor when others did "not" get it. Perhaps early as 8 years of age, however I can say much of it was wasted. I hardly remember medieval weapons, metamorphic rocks, the history of Louis Riel..

          Sometimes what I was taught was repeated in the best, other times I learned sporadically..although much of it also included naming convention. There might have been no proof at all for what was taught or its relevance (i.e. trig in grade 10) or optics. The transition in each summer has always been dumping and forgetting what was taught and simply remain in the population to advance next year. This to be my contempt, is abysmal and grades only perpetuate such a system when results in the form of raw scores / comparisons (i.e. A++ test service gurant
    • Jul 25 2011: Hmm, I think grades overall are one of the fundamental problems in educational systems. As a high school student, most students alike are more akin to knowing the course grade, the assignment grade, the exam prep, the scholarship practices/SAT testing, parental pressure (depends on your parents and their previous exposures/influences, i.e. good grades -> university -> job / bad grades -> poverty/death in some parts of eastern Asia countries where doctors/dentists are more prevalent because of that structure) than the actual content/course. And even then, we must ask what good is to be tested on something to be simply forgotten in a week?

      I memorize numbers, methods, facts, interpretations and put out some cohesive system offered by the teachers in order to pass these tests / quizzes. In the end, what I get is gapping holes of knowledge in the subject area that I am learning about. The grades may not even be representative of the effort / knowledge I have, I may have went through the course content again, the teacher may have not given precisely what was taught and what was put on the test, people may just want to just barely pass / cram "study", etc.

      Putting aside of the representative value of grades, to me it is one of the more demotivating factors for learning. I take APS/Philosophy and several other subjects. The ones I enjoy the most are the ones that I tend to do the best even when the teacher is not as great. Its true I have a capacity to master all of these subjects but pointing me to exercise after exercise, lecture after lecture, note after note will do little to inspire me to want and go out to learn something new. I always thought to myself, some of these lessons always could be condensed in a 15 minute video online in some form or way and even to more depth. I don't understand how sharing knowledge ought to be prohibited in forms of isolation, class advancement and tests/projects/assignments.
  • Jul 25 2011: The problem is not with grades per se, it's what they represent.

    Grades are just a carrot used to bait kids into learning. Just as a horse doesn't learn to calmly walk a path when led by a carrot a student doesn't learn for its own sake when the only possible meaningful achievement they can obtain is a letter on a piece of paper. It gets worse when the letter is reduced to meaninglessness because of the pressure for the school to preform and retain its funding. It's then that you get a school system full of kids doing work for which they will get close to nothing. What does a "B" in high school calculus really mean? Does it mean you know calculus? Spare me.
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    Jul 25 2011: Although I agree that sometimes grades can be arbitrary or unfair, I believe any other kind of rating/review system, whether it's narrative feedback or giving letters and percentages, would be just as inefficient when universally accepted. There is no perfect way of measuring a student's talent or ability, because not only are they "hidden" at times, but they are often infinite and unpredictable.What I think we should focus on is the system of educating the teachers. A system to help change their minds to see more openmindedly, looking for the hidden potentials in students and being true educators who inspire the students to self'explore and self'develop.
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    Jul 25 2011: Where qualifications (e.g. degrees) are concerned, surely grades are needed?
    But in schools maybe you're right. We don't want to produce 'grade grabbers', we want open minds, skilled learners and people with lust for life and sense of worth and well-being. This is why there is much debate about the SATs, and whether they're actually any good. But, to get rid of grades you need attentive, broad minded, farseeing, understanding teachers. There just aren't enough of them. For many people, teaching is a fall back career. Its sad but true.
    Maybe if the education system made people think more about what they enjoyed doing rather than making sure they got those A grades, or making them feel stupid for getting an F, maybe we would have better teachers?
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      Jul 25 2011: Adam, I agree on most counts. I don't see how grades are any different for degrees, though. To me, narrative feedback is better in every case.
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        Jul 25 2011: Well, I suppose that's because I see degrees as being less about the education, and more about getting something that will look good on your CV.
        Its sad, I know. Maybe this is all down to the grade system.

        But also, I don't think its possible to get rid of the grade system now because our teachers just aren't up to it. And it would require some extreme changes. Baby steps, I suppose...

        Also I think the potential psychological implications of grades makes it more important to get rid of them in schools before higher education.
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          Jul 25 2011: Yes, we agree completely. Sadly, you are spot on about teachers not being up to it, when it comes to eliminating grades. I'm working very hard on this. It's why I started this debate and why I wrote a book on results-only learning.

          With continued discourse, like what we have here, I think we can make grades disappear in the not-so-distant future. Thanks, Adam, for your thoughts.
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        Jul 25 2011: Thanks for starting the discussion :)
        I am also looking into teaching, one-to-one piano tuition (I'm about to start my final year of my degree, so I'm not in the real world yet..). I will keep all of this in mind when I start! Learning > Grades :)
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          Jul 25 2011: Your open-mindedness will serve you well. Best of luck.
  • Jan 1 1970:
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      Aug 2 2011: Steven, thanks for the article link and your comments. I have seen and enjoyed the Sal Khan video, too.

      As you might guess, I'm not a fan of grades a symbol, and I don't believe in badges, stickers or smiley faces either. I want learning to be intrinsically motivated.

      In my Results Only Learning Environment, my students stop asking about points and letters a few weeks into class. They also work harder than my past students who were being graded.

      If an A supposedly symbolizes excellence, does this mean an F symbolizes failure? Sure, being excellent seems nice, but who wants their students or children to be known as failures?

      Thanks for commenting.
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        Aug 3 2011: I visited your blog and I like the challenge that you have presented to educators. I hope you don[t mind but I referenced it on hubski and provided a link. You can see it here:

        You are obviously busy here... but you should join the conversation there too. Your expertise would be most welcome in the dialogue.

        Good luck and keep up the good fight!
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          Aug 3 2011: Thanks a lot, Steven. I will check out the other conversation.