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 9 2011: I'm a retired high school teacher with an "insider' perspective,
    And, yes, you are correct. Maybe it is time to "can" the grading system.
    But consider "meaningful narrative feedback" in the high school class system.
    Most teachers have approximately 120 students a semester. For the narratives to be valid
    the teacher would have to give 15 days (based on an 8 hour day) four times a semester
    for evaluation. This is based on 1 hour per student. By any standard that is a lot of time.

    Just trying to give the discussion another perspective. Is the teacher's job to help the students learn or spend 60 days evaluating?
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      Aug 9 2011: Dave, you have offered refreshing insight to the debate. I cover the issue of time in my book, because it is a tough one. I have 100 or more students all year. An important piece of a Results Only Learning Environment that has been briefly mentioned here is project-based learning. I create year-long projects for my students that encompass all objectives. Traditional lecture-style direct instruction is replaced with brief mini lessons, often delivered with video or other web-based tools.

      Students in a ROLE are also coached early and often on how to learn without too much help from the teacher. In a ROLE, the teacher becomes much more of a facilitator and coach, getting out of the students' way and allowing them to discover things.

      This style of teaching creates much more time for feedback, because the teacher is not creating lessons and materials as much as traditional teachers do.

      I almost never make copies (we learn and present on the Internet), and I collect roughly 90 percent less activities than my colleagues do. Also, there is a lot of verbal feedback. I circulate constantly and "look in" on individuals and small groups to evaluate their learning. I may make a designation on a roster that will lead to a brief comment on our web-based grade program later. All feedback isn't super long. We see the word narrative, and sometimes we automatically assume lengthy.

      Trust me, leaving ongoing narrative feedback takes an immense amount of time. I work a lot harder now than I ever did when I was a traditional teacher, using homework, handouts and quizzes.

      My students learn more than ever, though.

      Thanks for weighing in here. I always appreciate the opinion of a veteran teacher.

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