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Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education

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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.

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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 27 2011: I don't think grading is that bad. It motivates to do better, to read more, ect. also think that professor should be graded too. There is individuals out there who consider them self professors. And are teaching only for the money, I'm a student and it really sucks when you have a professor who does not make the lecture interesting at all!,but when it comes to grading they expects from you something PERFECT!. Like if they were PERFECT educators. What should change is the way we teach teachers become one. never the less, I also think that grading sometimes is not that great. My friend took a class and failed it then she took it again and passed it, the F was erased but not her GPA(the GPA was never changed). In that case the point of college is learning and if you have learned the subject i don't think there should not be any reason why an F should determine if the person is capable of learning a subject.
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      Jul 27 2011: Oscar, it's interesting that you begin by saying that grades aren't so bad, but later you give an example of someone's GPA being hurt by an F.

      This is exactly what's wrong with grades, among other things. Rarely do grades allow for mastery learning. Your friend may have been victimized by poor instruction the first time. Later, she demonstrated learning (maybe the conditions changed), so why should she be penalized by a poor GPA, which could affect what job she gets or doesn't get later.

      This is why narrative feedback is so much better than grades. It allows for mastery learning, without the punitive effects of the letter.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.

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