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 7 2011: Consider this situation. 2 projects are handed in, 1 gets an A, its very well done, and the other lacks a point of view as you suggested. Even without feedback, but relying on the student's own incentive to improve his own work, the B student would possibly ask to see his friend's A work, and if he trully understands the topic, he will realize he made an omission of the point of view or didn't include enough points of view. If the A student wants to help his friend he'd point out the mistake himself. This would happen in an ideal world were the students are concerned about their results, and often does happen. But since its not the case in the majority of homework tasks, the teacher's feedback is used instead.
    As for the objectivity, I agree that a narrative feedback is more objective than a B, if only 1 student is concerned, but if 1 student gets his homework back with a comment saying his work is quite good and should improve, another student receives a similar comment, on what basis does a third party decide which one of them is better?

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