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.


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: I agree with you. I think that learning should be about learning, not who can learn the most or who can learn the best. I think that every person has unique wants and passions and can't simply be placed in a system and have it be expected for them to adapt and succeed in it. I feel that numbers are just a quick, impersonal way to define someone's status so as to save time and effort. But we can't just let a number judge their intelligence or their capability. Someone who didn't get very high grades in English who wants to pursue a graphic arts program (for example) because they feel passionate about art shouldn't be limited to that opportunity because they were 5 tenths off the mark. And yet someone who didn't really care about art, but who had the higher grades, should be able to pursue it because they have a higher number? what does that teach people? that because you are better suited for societies system that you are better suited for being successful? or that because you aren't suited for societies system you must learn to adapt or not be able to accomplish what you want to do?
    I also think that a big problem with the school system these days is that students simply aren't doing what they want. we have access to so much knowledge by just the internet alone that a lot of us have already decided what we're passionate about and what we want. But we have to spend time doing things that we aren't and time being in palces that aren't helping us get to where we wants to be. Surely i can write a 500 word essay on Shakespeare but i think i'd have a much higher grade if i wrote about something i cared about.
    The problem with our generation isn't that we aren't good enough or motivated enough to do anything. It's that we feel that there are too many unimportant things in the way of reaching our goals. We're discouraged. Because we're a generation of imagination, and technology and dreams. and yet we're still living in a society that limits us.
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      • Aug 4 2011: BINGO, Shaken!

        The only people should be encouraging this are,

        a. Teachers - eliminating student's scores also eliminates teacher's scores, now they too can be graded on effort.

        b. Under-performing Students - now no one determines if you are smart but you, kid! Say it with a straight face and it must be true.

        c. Financial Consultants - because we will be making a killing when these morons enter the workforce and need someone to hold their hand from graduation to grave.
        • Aug 4 2011: Why should putting more emphasis on the intrinsic value of learning make someone less competitive? I agree that doing away with grades entirely is not the right choice, but being so focused on competition is not any better. Aren't the leaders of our economy the people who have learned to tap their inner desire to learn more about something?
        • Aug 10 2011: I would like to quote Clarence Darrow who had something to say about competition.

          "A criminal is someone with a predatory instinct who lacked the capital to start a corporation."
      • Aug 4 2011: Wow you just generalized an ENTIRE generation of people! How do you know what all their lives are like?

        edit: Haha well your description describes my educational experience pretty well.... I'm not complaining though
      • Aug 5 2011: Yes, i am appreciative to live in a country with so many opportunities and be part of a generation so advanced. But we aren't talking about the difference between my country and others. we're talking about the education system in mine and other like mine. and thank-you-very-much, i think i have a right to say whatever the hell i want about how I feel about the education system in MY country. I can't speak for anyone else in any other countries and i'm not trying to. Excuse me for speaking my mind, i thought that's what this entire website was devoted to.
        What i said is how i feel and understand the education system to be flawed and i personally would like to change it. It's not that i am unappreciative of what i have, it's that i'd like to use what i have to further myself rather than waste it.
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      Aug 6 2011: Amanda, you have brought a fresh point of view to the debate. Thanks so much for your comments.

      Shaken, regardless of how much or how little someone may have, I'm not sure why this means we should make education boring. I think you may have missed Amanda's point. If I understand her, she wants the right to choose what she learns. She doesn't want to be labeled by a letter that most likely does nothing to define her.
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      Aug 9 2011: Hi Amanda,

      Am I understanding you correctly, that you believe students should not be required to learn things that do not interest them?

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