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 8 2011: Mark, I have to wonder if you are tired of teaching and I say that because you are starting to look at students/teenagers as adults capable of rational decision making. Every independent thinking teen I knew, or know now, tries to become an actor. lol

    They are still hormonal, under-developed, and require reassurance that someone actually gives a damn about them. Sometimes a good grade achieves this.

    What happens in that high school I mention is that the entire community feels more involved in raising the students, and this gives the students of feeling of independence to think freely. They will need that as they start choosing careers.

    WHY? They have a safety net to do so...the very parents who get involved.
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      Aug 8 2011: Steven, you are right about teens. They do need a support system, and they are hormonal and often prone to poor decision-making. This is no reason to take the decision-making process away from them.

      You are also right about how I look at students. I look at my teen students as young adults, who deserve the same respect and choice as we do. This is why I love teaching; so, I can make sure at least some students get these freedoms.

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