TED Conversations

Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education


This conversation is closed.

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.


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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  • Aug 4 2011: Doesnt narrative feedback have the same potential to be subjective and arbitrary as well?

    Also how would you compare the achievement of students from different schools or even just different classes? Would not a letter grade plus justifying narrative feedback be more effective?
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      Aug 5 2011: Sean, I'm not interested in comparing schools and students, when it comes to learning. This is the problem with our education system. Why do we need to compete?

      Anything can be subjective, if it's done poorly. All letter grades are subjective.

      When detailed feedback is done right, it is the most objective form of assessment.
      • Aug 5 2011: I'm not arguing that we need to compete. I'm saying that we DO compete, not just our society or our education system but ALL societies... It is very difficult to find any examples of a competition-less community.

        Narrative mandatory feedback seems like a great idea, but in the end all grading is subjective regardless of form. Letter grades are for the most part an attempt to standardize this subjectivity. If you take that out then companies, colleges, graduate schools, and other institutions will have no "objective" means to select candidates. Of course there are many things that letter grades do NOT capture well if at all, and for these factors detailed qualitative descriptions would be ideal.

        Letter grades may miss out many important human qualities that need to be accounted for, but they seem to be a decent measure of a certain set of skills. I feel like there is a need for both kinds of evaluation in our education system.

        Obviously this doesn't consider the practicality of writing descriptions for every student especially in schools with packed classes and overburdened teachers. However I do agree that competition, natural though it is, is overemphasized and can distract students from the "joy" of learning.

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