TED Conversations

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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    Aug 7 2011: If you were to eliminate grades from say a high school class, then wouldn't that make a college have to base their acceptance more-so on standardized testing? Wouldn't the whole application process have to be rearranged?
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      Aug 7 2011: Max, the last thing I want is more emphasis on standardized testing. In fact, I'd like testing eliminated along with grades.

      If we replace grades with narrative feedback, the college acceptance system would have to change. Recruiters would have to read a lot of written evaluation of each student. College deans would have to work harder, but students would then be accepted for who they are, rather than some number that hardly represents them at all.

      Thanks for the question.
      • Aug 7 2011: One thing that I see on this topic very clearly is that there seems to be valid points for both systems. I see the negativity that is placed in the "grading" system, however what does work about this program is it is able to define very clearly where a students interest lies. We have varying disciplines and we grade for performance within disciplines. It identifies what that particular student is both interested in and has the cognitive and creative ability to understand. The problem is not with the system used, I think, but the manner in which it is applied by teachers and parents. Earlier in the thread was the conversation of a mother regarding accepting A's from one child and B's from another child. A childs particular motivation will affect his performance in a given area. Is he capable of achieving an A? Perhaps. Does he have the interest in achieving an A? Perhaps not. This does not mean he is not performing well, rather it displays where his cumulative strengths lie. Rather than being penalized for the B or C, the educational system and parents should realize that this is merely just another indicator of who that student/child is as an individual.
        I think we need some system of measurement but only to be used as information with which to help students realize their potential, and to find success for their future as adults. Society has placed too high a value on certain professions rather than identifying and teaching the true menaing of the word "success". And success is as individual as we all are. For a learning disabled student to find the ability to be able to care for themselves in their day to day living as adults is as great a measure of success as the mensa student who goes to the top of his chosen profession.
        As humanity, we will always "measure" in various ways. Its how we are able to percieve and define ourselves in relation to the world in which we live.

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