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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 28 2011: It strikes me that this really centers on the question of "what are we assessing for".

    If the assessment takes place in order to help the student understand how well they've mastered the subject matter, a grade can be a shortcut, which might be useful as part of a more rounded, feedback-based assessment. If the assessment exists to inform future schools, colleges and employers of the students aptitude on a test, the only real benefit to the grade is to show how good a student's short term memory was for that test.

    Assessing for the purposes of helping the student improve would require constant feedback (and possibly grading) throughout their education. A grade given at the very end of the course/school year strikes me as comparatively useless.

    Even within subjects such as mathematics and the sciences, there is a massive difference between someone who was able to cram the knowledge in a short space of time in order to pass an exam and someone who internalized the knowledge in such a way that they can still recall and use it in later years. A grade of "A" can describe someone who has excelled in both scenarios, but doesn't actually tell us much of any value about what the student actually learned in a meaningful way.

    I'm over simplifying, but hopefully my central point comes through.
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      Jul 28 2011: You make a brilliant point about cramming knowledge. This is what is so wrong with the system of stand-and-deliver, then test. This is not real learning.

      A Results Only Learning Environment uses year-long projects to demonstrate true mastery learning.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.

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