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 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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