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Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education

TEDCRED 10+

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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 26 2011: If you have to give a grade, I like the idea of giving one like Wolf does. You are also right about parents emphasizing grades. Until parents grasp my results-only system, they often ask about grades. They are perplexed, at first, when I say, "There are no grades." Once they learn the system, all of them embrace it.

      Thanks for your insight.
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          Jul 27 2011: Flexibility, sure; but when it becomes a good thing to skip classes, you're going too far. It's good you went to the library and worked on projects, but if Wolf was so good, why skip his classes? I observed a project to accommodate unruly students who'd been kicked out of school. They were now given tremendous freedom and extra help - they squandered it, and their behaviour remained atrocious. There must be respect and discipline in an organization, else just let people go their own way and don't interfere at all. Get too liberal and things get sloppy. Good that it worked for you though, but not everyone would have good home schooling or be self motivated like you were. You're right, I think, when you say we should have more types of education - perhaps you could suggest a new type as the start of another discussion ;) I bet you have some good ideas.
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          Jul 27 2011: Birdia (forgive me if I misuse your name), I am in awe of you. I am often looked upon by colleagues as weak, because, like your instructor, I am far more concerned by seeing a student learn than by how she learns. I have many students who are labeled as "unruly" by other teachers, yet I have no problems with them at all. This is the essence of a Results Only Learning Environment.

          Many of my students master learning outcomes in different ways. I have had students miss weeks of school for various reasons and still do very well, because they are good at using the tools I provide outside of school. My workshop setting also allows many students to go elsewhere to study, while the remainder of the class stays and works in my room. Each student has individual needs. This is something that is missing in education globally, I think.

          Thanks for your very kind words. I can't change anything by myself, though. People like you and others in this discussion will carry us into new-millennium learning.
        • Jul 30 2011: Hello,Are you a Chinese-American?
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          Jul 28 2011: I think I would have let the Birdia out of her cage ;) I guess art students are a class unto themselves: it's kind of expected that you'll be wild with creative energy and therefore be untameable. As for my degree, I did get it after missing most of my 3rd year, but I didn't get a good grade - if only grades had been abolished.
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          Jul 28 2011: Well, now I seem to have rattled your cage. You seem to misunderstand me as much as I misunderstand you. I love creative people, and have not said otherwise. My comment about the cage was simply to say I would have given you the freedom you needed. Wild and untameable wasn't so serious, but meant as a tongue in cheek compliment, as in creativity that breaks through control barriers. You've added the word 'beast' quite unfairly to exaggerate your attack on my words. I don't know what the stone age has to do with this; you seem to have wanted to add something and grabbed a cliché in anger.I'm not sure what your point is actually; you've not been clear. How was Wolf visionary? The history of the Bauhaus...not familiar with this. What is the main principle you have in mind? Thanks. p.s. as for my 3rd year at uni, I wasn't so mature back then. I have different ideas now.
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          Jul 28 2011: I love the debate you two are having. By the way, you and everyone here who wants change in education are my team.

          Thanks for sticking with this amazing conversation.
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          Jul 29 2011: Hi Birdia. A little bickering is fun, but this could go on and on at the expense of more fruitful debate. I invite you to join me in turning over a new leaf, where we both look for the value and interest in each others comments, and let all the negativity slip away. I hope this is acceptable to you, and I look forward to hearing more of your opinions. Until next time ;) Cheers.
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          Jul 28 2011: many people gave him F, but it wouldn't matter. teachers also gave him F, that's the problem. and i'm also giving him A for being sharp like a scalpel.

          so you get the conversation back on track. this is the problem with grades. in school, the system decides who gets A and who gets F. in real life, it is more diverse. some give F some give A, and all between. this is how people find their place in society. the system's opinion does not count.
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        Jul 29 2011: To eliminate the grading process from our education system implies that many other changes have taken place to render them useless - so in that respect I think it would be a good thing. But realistically speaking I think we would do well as educators to de-emphasize them as it sounds you have done ( does your school system actually allow you to eliminate them all together?!)

        The fact of the matter is children need something that indicates the degree to which a teacher has been pleased with their effort and progress. There is also a developmental aspect to moving through
        the grades that the grading system is cueing in on.

        Then there is the matter of children who come to school with "baggage". They are so distracted
        by their world in tumult that school is an afterthought at best. Giving grades might be the only thing that motivates them. Or not.

        But to get back to the point of grades being necessary or not, I think they should be made meaningless by making changes like Sir Ken Robinson advocates for in education.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thank you again for your excellent insight and contributions to this powerful discussion.
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          Jul 30 2011: There must be TED.com moderators. I didn't delete any comments.
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          Jul 30 2011: Thanks. It's always a pleasure to read your opinions.

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