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 10 2011: The problem is deeper than just grades. It's our teachers just teaching recycled stuff that our society has stamped as education. Education has evolved, and needs to change in the teachers mind first so it can be passed onto the student. Grades is just a scale. But the system is whats the challenge. The system needs to change. Refer to Robert kiyosaki Rich Dad poor Dad, for guidance.

    Who cares what the principals, or school system says what you can teach, it's time to step outside of that and teach from your heart. -To teachers all over. :)
    • Aug 10 2011: Speaking *as* a teacher, one who is the kind that loves teaching and wants the best for her students, I care what the principal or school system says I can teach because 1. I don't want to be fired, and 2. it would *not* be best for my students if I was not here to teach them! I do teach from my heart but I also teach my students how to succeed in the environment they currently live in.
      Yes, the educational system needs to change. I have no arguments with that. In terms of staying on topic, taking away grades is an uncomfortable thought but not one that I really have a major problem with- I already try to give feedback wherever possible in class, and I *really* miss not being able to put comments on reports (I work in a school that gives only grades on reports until the last year of school). However, given the country in which I work, until the system changes on a much bigger scale than me, to stop putting any grades or marks on my students' work entirely would be to shortchange them and get myself fired- my students would not get into their university courses.
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        Aug 10 2011: Liz, maybe the system will change when people like us make it change. My school mandates report grades, so that's what I supply. Of course, I ask the students to grade themselves, and that's what I post. Other than the report card, I never put a letter or number on anything.

        My colleagues are fascinated by this. I think it's only a matter of time before it catches on.

        Don't be afraid of trying new things. They can't fire you for trying to be better.

        Good luck.
        • Aug 10 2011: In my country and state, university entrance is based half on a single, statewide subject exam and half on school grades which must be attached to moderateable assessment tasks matching with very specific descriptors. If I fail to produce these set assessment task grades, or am unable to clearly show how these grades correlate with specific, predeterminded pieces of collected work, the students will not receive their university entrance grades, and I almost certainly will be fired.
          I have been challenged recently, however, about joining the kinds of committees that do have a stake in how the system works- it is one way of getting a say in these kinds of things, even if on a much smaller level than this topic of conversation.
          I'm trying to think of how the idea of self-grading could be applicable in younger grades than the last two, however, and whether it would set up more confusion in those last two years of school to not be used to receiving graded work and to suddenly hit it at a time when the work load is also increasing exponentially. One concern I think I would have is that my students (all boys) are not always good at judging their own ability. I can think of two students in particular now in an advanced class; who consistently judge their own abilities and achievements far lower than reality. Do students get better at this when receiving more detailed feedback?

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