TED Conversations

Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education


This conversation is closed.

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: How about the grade plus feedback? First, why grades are important? For any field, we need to know where do we stand comparative or as per the demand in market. Grades are the measuring factor which makes clear to the candidates, who are getting evaluated, about their knowledge and skill sets in that particular field. It also helps evaluator to know how many they have as per need and what needs to be done to improve their knowledge or skill set. Grade helps to define the basic capability the candidate has in the field.

    Now feedback. As it depends on the person's background where he/she might have exceptional natural skills compare to other field, feedback will help to gauge performance and identifying area of improvements. Feedback will differ from candidate to candidate as everybody has some uniqueness. ''Grade gauges you and Feedback makes you"

    I expect to have grade and feedback system fair enough to realize this.
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      Aug 9 2011: Brijesh, although there are many reasons I'm against grades, you mention a good one -- comparison. I would like to eliminate this in education, too. I don't think turning how individuals learn into a competition is productive.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
    • Aug 10 2011: Mr. Shah, have you ever asked yourself why you need to know where you stand in comparison to others, or why the market cares about that?

      Perhaps the answer to the first part is that you have come to expect it as normal (although normal is only an agreed upon standard - slavery used to be normal - and bathing was not - thankfully things change), and perhaps the answer to the second part is that the market benefits when their workers are desperate or willing to betray each other for short term gain.

      I'm not suggesting these are the answers but the exploration of them might be illustrative.

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