TED Conversations

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: With a narrative, things can become too general and teachers may start picking favorites and adding in a little bit of extra pizazz to the students grading feedback than they deserve. It is much easier for a teacher to get away with giving a few undeserved comments then to mess around with the numberical grading book to alter a student's grade. The narrative may show what the student has done and what they need to work on which would be great for K-12 grades where the actual cirriculum is not very intense. However, any university teacher/professor should grade using some sort of scale to reflect that individual's intelligence and prowess. I am going to a university to get my degree in Mechanical Engineering and have worked very hard for my A's and B's. I would not appreciate it if all that hard work was not as noticeable because it was lost in translation because of these feedback reports. All it could take is one professor to get it in with a student for a number of possible reasons and that student would be at the whim of the professor's judgement rather than being able to see physical grades based off a numerical score.
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      Jul 27 2011: Hmm., I'm not at all clear on how the letter is any different from feedback, if a professor has "it in for" a student. If I dislike a student, and I'm going to hold a grudge (unimaginable to me), I can just as easily give the student a low number or letter.

      So you would really rather have all those A's and B's, which say absolutely nothing, than a detailed narrative about what you did or didn't accomplish? Why did you get B's, instead of A's?

      For me, if you hadn't mastered something (B), I would have told you specifically what you needed to do to demonstrate mastery. Then, I would have given you a chance to change or add to the activity/project to do so. Isn't this a much better way to learn than just getting that B?

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