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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: I think this is a natural extension of ideas about the kind of economy we are preparing students for. Lots of data shows that the carrot-stick method of learning does not work well for situations that require a high-degree of creative thinking, and inherently causes people to focus on the shortest and most obvious path to a solution while locking out the bigger picture. So the question is: Are any classes these days sufficiently lacking in a creativity to the point where a carrot-stick method is desirable? If so, should we change that? If not, why are we using the wrong learning reinforcement tool? What is the better one we should use? To see this topic in the light I'm suggesting think about this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_pink_on_motivation.html
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      Jul 28 2011: Thanks for weighing in on this, Tim. I love Daniel Pink and quote him often in my book.

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