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 26 2011: Maybe schools or the education system should put in small fine letters.

    "The grade presented in this report card does not represent your child true learning standing and if you disagree with the grade given please contact your child's teacher. As the teacher will discuss the reasons why your child was rated this grade in terms of learning standing."
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      Jul 26 2011: Not a bad alternative to the traditional method we currently have. Thanks.
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      Jul 27 2011: No. Grades might be bad, but a grade with a note attached telling you how useless it is only reduces the system to a farce. Perhaps you meant the statement to be a joke, but Marks endorsement causes me to think it is being taken seriously.
      • Aug 1 2011: I would say yes to this idea as detailing the grade and the reason why they grade it would provide a much better idea to the parent rather than just grading. This idea was inspired by the S/P rating style. They would rate a company then provide a detail reason on why the rated it and the concerns and highlights of the company. I think it would be a better way to explain the reasoning of the grade to the parent and to the student then just giving them a grade and a small "Great job" note.

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