Mark Barnes

Education & Business Consultant, The Paperless Classroom, LLC


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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      Jul 26 2011: If you have to give a grade, I like the idea of giving one like Wolf does. You are also right about parents emphasizing grades. Until parents grasp my results-only system, they often ask about grades. They are perplexed, at first, when I say, "There are no grades." Once they learn the system, all of them embrace it.

      Thanks for your insight.
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          Jul 27 2011: Flexibility, sure; but when it becomes a good thing to skip classes, you're going too far. It's good you went to the library and worked on projects, but if Wolf was so good, why skip his classes? I observed a project to accommodate unruly students who'd been kicked out of school. They were now given tremendous freedom and extra help - they squandered it, and their behaviour remained atrocious. There must be respect and discipline in an organization, else just let people go their own way and don't interfere at all. Get too liberal and things get sloppy. Good that it worked for you though, but not everyone would have good home schooling or be self motivated like you were. You're right, I think, when you say we should have more types of education - perhaps you could suggest a new type as the start of another discussion ;) I bet you have some good ideas.
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          Jul 27 2011: Birdia (forgive me if I misuse your name), I am in awe of you. I am often looked upon by colleagues as weak, because, like your instructor, I am far more concerned by seeing a student learn than by how she learns. I have many students who are labeled as "unruly" by other teachers, yet I have no problems with them at all. This is the essence of a Results Only Learning Environment.

          Many of my students master learning outcomes in different ways. I have had students miss weeks of school for various reasons and still do very well, because they are good at using the tools I provide outside of school. My workshop setting also allows many students to go elsewhere to study, while the remainder of the class stays and works in my room. Each student has individual needs. This is something that is missing in education globally, I think.

          Thanks for your very kind words. I can't change anything by myself, though. People like you and others in this discussion will carry us into new-millennium learning.
        • Jul 30 2011: Hello,Are you a Chinese-American?
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          Jul 28 2011: I think I would have let the Birdia out of her cage ;) I guess art students are a class unto themselves: it's kind of expected that you'll be wild with creative energy and therefore be untameable. As for my degree, I did get it after missing most of my 3rd year, but I didn't get a good grade - if only grades had been abolished.
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          Jul 28 2011: Well, now I seem to have rattled your cage. You seem to misunderstand me as much as I misunderstand you. I love creative people, and have not said otherwise. My comment about the cage was simply to say I would have given you the freedom you needed. Wild and untameable wasn't so serious, but meant as a tongue in cheek compliment, as in creativity that breaks through control barriers. You've added the word 'beast' quite unfairly to exaggerate your attack on my words. I don't know what the stone age has to do with this; you seem to have wanted to add something and grabbed a cliché in anger.I'm not sure what your point is actually; you've not been clear. How was Wolf visionary? The history of the Bauhaus...not familiar with this. What is the main principle you have in mind? Thanks. p.s. as for my 3rd year at uni, I wasn't so mature back then. I have different ideas now.
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          Jul 28 2011: I love the debate you two are having. By the way, you and everyone here who wants change in education are my team.

          Thanks for sticking with this amazing conversation.
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          Jul 29 2011: Hi Birdia. A little bickering is fun, but this could go on and on at the expense of more fruitful debate. I invite you to join me in turning over a new leaf, where we both look for the value and interest in each others comments, and let all the negativity slip away. I hope this is acceptable to you, and I look forward to hearing more of your opinions. Until next time ;) Cheers.
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          Jul 28 2011: many people gave him F, but it wouldn't matter. teachers also gave him F, that's the problem. and i'm also giving him A for being sharp like a scalpel.

          so you get the conversation back on track. this is the problem with grades. in school, the system decides who gets A and who gets F. in real life, it is more diverse. some give F some give A, and all between. this is how people find their place in society. the system's opinion does not count.
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        Jul 29 2011: To eliminate the grading process from our education system implies that many other changes have taken place to render them useless - so in that respect I think it would be a good thing. But realistically speaking I think we would do well as educators to de-emphasize them as it sounds you have done ( does your school system actually allow you to eliminate them all together?!)

        The fact of the matter is children need something that indicates the degree to which a teacher has been pleased with their effort and progress. There is also a developmental aspect to moving through
        the grades that the grading system is cueing in on.

        Then there is the matter of children who come to school with "baggage". They are so distracted
        by their world in tumult that school is an afterthought at best. Giving grades might be the only thing that motivates them. Or not.

        But to get back to the point of grades being necessary or not, I think they should be made meaningless by making changes like Sir Ken Robinson advocates for in education.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thank you again for your excellent insight and contributions to this powerful discussion.
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          Jul 30 2011: There must be moderators. I didn't delete any comments.
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          Jul 30 2011: Thanks. It's always a pleasure to read your opinions.
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    Aug 10 2011: I agree with your proposition that grades should be eliminated from education. In fact, however, I think that particular question, at the secondary level, has been asked and answered. I am speaking here of public education, and I would be happy to take up private preparatory education in a subsequent post.

    Grades are already gone.

    At no time in the last decade of teaching high school and middle school has a single administrator ever once asked me about the grades students receive in my classes. For example, “Mr. Smith, I have a question for you. Why is it that your eighth graders almost always pass your courses with a “B” grade or higher?” Never. Why?

    I believe that grades at the secondary level have already been functionally eliminated and emptied of their meaning by the primacy of standardized testing. I believe that we should eliminate grading systems because they are useless, wasteful, and redundant in the negative sense. At this point we have two grading systems: meaningless grades and standardized test scores.

    I believe that standardized testing in education has the same effect on culture and learning that anesthesia has prior to invasive dental work: “I don’t care what happens next, I just don’t want to feel anything until it’s over or be reminded that it ever happened.”

    Standardized tests are the “grades” of the present and they represent a political move that has nothing to do with students, education, or culture. Standardized tests are seen by elected officials as a way to deliver votes. So long as they do, our public education system will, without fail, remain solidly in the camp of testing all students at every possible opportunity.So long as the results can be manipulated by re-engineering tests and answers, those tests will remain in the hands of educrats driven by dollars.

    Students are not the ones being graded at all, and it's time students received valuable reflections that help them see who they are and what they are becoming.
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      Aug 10 2011: Todd you make excellent points about standardized testing. Also, I'm glad administrators aren't asking you about your grades, but if you're still giving them and they're factored into a GPA, then they still exist.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
    • Aug 12 2011: Nice critique Todd. Standardized tests are only political weapons.
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    Aug 9 2011: I definitely agree that grades should be eliminated, because really what do they show?? nothing, except what we say the should. Just because you get an A in a class doesn't mean that you are "smart" and learned everything. 6 months down the road what will you have taken from that class you got an A in? that's where true learning is. It's what you can take away from a class. I know people who flunked out of high school, but they are the smartest people I know (not all of them, but some).
  • Aug 4 2011: There is one thing that is missing in this process. Narrative feedback isn't good enough if there is no performance standards attached to it. Once you have standards (developed amongst the staff that must use those standards--English teachers set their standards, etc....) there will be more consistency in feedback from teacher to teacher and more clarity of what to the student knows or does not know. Just because you don't have a letter grade doesn't mean you are not allowed to perform up to expectations. It is called standards-based grading and has been successful in many schools. It makes grading more objective with the use of performance rubrics and common assessments from one class to another (that way any English teacher could "grade" the same paper and the "score" would be almost exactly the same).
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      Aug 5 2011: Peter, I realize standards must play a role in assessment. Sadly, this is the system we live in. Most standards are very poorly written and do not account for the different abilities of students.

      Having said this, I believe there's plenty of room for narrative feedback that addresses standards. With learning outcomes properly outlined within a discipline, it would be easy for any teacher to leave feedback, even if a student was not in her class. Thanks for this excellent observation.
      • Aug 5 2011: But using performance is an excellent way to provide differentiation! One student's "3" might be another student's "4." And you are write that most standards are poorly written, but there is work being done on them... good work at that. Besides, one of the most effective ways to make the standards better is to "unpack" them yourself (or even better, with those in your department) to develop standards that work for your particular school.
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    Aug 1 2011: Yes it is.

    The damage that can be done to a child by giving he or she a bad grade often times is irreversible.

    Here's an extract of the transcript ot Aimee Mullins' talk which is relevant to the matter at hand:

    There was a case study done in 1960's Britain, when they were moving from grammar schools to comprehensive schools. It's called the streaming trials. We call it tracking here in the States. It's separating students from A, B, C, D and so on. And the A students get the tougher curriculum, the best teachers, etc. Well, they took, over a three month period, D level students, gave them A's, told them they were A's, told them they were bright. And at the end of this three month period, they were performing at A level.

    And, of course, the heartbreaking, flip side of this study, is that they took the A students and told them they were D's. And that's what happened at the end of that three month period. Those who were still around in school, besides the people who had dropped out. A crucial part of this case study was that the teachers were duped too. The teachers didn't know a switch had been made. They were simply told these are the A students, these are the D students. And that's how they went about teaching them and treating them.
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      Aug 2 2011: Helena, thanks so much for chiming in and sharing the link and especially the study. I have heard of the study but haven't seen it.

      This certainly makes sense and underscores exactly what we're talking about here with how damaging grades are.

      Thanks again for your contribution.
  • Aug 9 2011: I want to echo something that Mark is saying, it's important. Understanding Results Only Learning will answer many of the concerns and questions raised. More to the point, being afraid of change, and that is what I hear over and over, is no reason to stop it.

    I believe that parents and communities must act to move forward. Teachers are left to their own devices and thank goodness there are people like Mark who believe so much in learning and in children's abilities to become lifelong learners - that they take on opposition for the betterment of education.

    Let's keep something in mind: Teachers need and deserve our partnership, respect and support. Not everyone can, or should teach. It's a gift, a vocation and in many cases a commitment to doing a "job" for which there isn't even adequate pay.

    Mark is doing something that he has found success with. Hearing about the results his students achieve should make us take notice in a manner that is positive. I definitely see where what he is doing can be so good for kids, although I certainly recognize it's not an answer to the overall problem. But it wasn't mean to be. Looking back at my first response, I missed that.

    We can all cite reasons for why something will fail. That's been explored. I challenge you all to take the viewpoint that it will succeed. Think about it, talk about it. Be open to the change you want to see - it might mean letting go of those carefully guarded perceptions, but TED is a forum for learning and sharing - I hope everyone sees that in order for that to happen, we ourselves must be willing to consider change as progress. I learned from a great teacher (more years ago than I care to admit!) that the best debate is one in which each team can argue each side of the subject on the table. If nothing else, it illustrates our level comprehension more completely.

    If during the course of such debate, you discover something you hadn't known before, "ta-da" learning has been achieved. Which IS the goal.
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      Aug 10 2011: Libbey, your heartfelt comment means a lot to me. I am certainly willing to take on questions, concerns and even negativity. This is why I started this remarkable debate, which people have made the most active on the conversations site.

      Change is difficult, especially major reform of something that has been the same for so long.

      I believe ongoing discussions, like this one, will make people take notice, and other teachers will begin using results-only learning worldwide.

      Thanks again for you kind words and support.
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    Aug 9 2011: Mark, maybe the problem is the emotional connection that our soceity usually attach to the grades. Grades could be objective in certain aspects. Perhaps the grading systems should start at "A" and no "F" because we are all intrinsically intelligent and good people. http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower

    Narrative feedback is great as it translates into more meaningful care for each student. I also like Salman Khan's idea that we all can learn basic math, science, grammar and values education, with the help of our technologies.
  • Aug 8 2011: Changing student learning assessment isn't enough to effect the overhaul needed in education. As a parent who dis-enrolled her children from a superior-rated school with wonderful teachers and staff, I can attest to this fact:
    Problems in schools aren't born there.
    Issues which adversely affect a child's education begin outside of the school and reflect the problems within the community. Education needs more than just reform, or a change in how we judge performance. Whether we speak of a student's performance or a teacher's - we must look outside that institutional "box" to parents & communities. When any community has a multiple schools which are both private and public, lack of appropriate funding opportunities sets the stage for elitist and often non-diverse systems, which may follow the same state guidelines for education, but whose populace is unbalanced in terms of background - both ethnic and financial.
    Where we live, there are vast differences in the climate in which a child can receive an education. And while it shouldn't be the case, these differences affect our children while in school - and out of school, living in the community. That affect transfers itself to the parents - whether they are taking on the stress of trying to afford a "better" private school or to live in a better school district, or dealing with problems in lower income communities from drugs & gangs - the changes we need to see in our schools are wholly reflective of the problems the community at large faces. Until federal and state funding aids ALL schools, to standardize resources while maintaining the highest level of educational integrity - the differences in income status will continue to build walls and create class segregated schools.
    Creating an environment that is super-charged educationally and child centered means removing ALL barriers that threaten to compromise a child's ability to engage themselves in learning. That starts with social change, with parents and government
    • Aug 8 2011: Libbey. Very well said. I found this article this morning I was going to post in this thread anyway about the cheating scandal in Atlanta schools. I think it reflects very well what you have stated.
    • Aug 8 2011: I used to be a teacher.

      I taught for a while at an elite private academy. Most of the students were delivered by limousine or town car in the morning and the chauffeurs would pick them up at night. They were indifferent students at best and full of entitlement. Little Bushies. Most of them haven't done anything with their lives except join daddies firm. Parasites by and large.

      I also taught in the inner city where some of my students were homeless, or dealt with gang problems or worse. And those students were almost to a person wonderful to deal with once they decided that they could trust me. Half of those students have moved on to become doctors, lawyers and other productive members of society. One of my favorites, Seth, was homeless and yet managed to get all of his homework done (including practicing clarinet every night). He never knew where his next meal was coming from or where he would sleep.

      There is not comparison in my mind. The kids from nothing were more empathetic, caring, creative and motivated than the rich kids. And yet the rich kids will make more money and cause more problems. The USA may be many things, but what we are mostly is an empire in decline filled with citizens who distract themselves from the humanity around them.
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      Aug 8 2011: Libbey, I agree with you, but I'm not willing to wait for parents and government to make the necessary changes, because they will never do so. As a teacher, who understands what students need, I think it's important to act. This is why I run my classroom differently from all traditional educators.

      Thanks for your comment.
      • Aug 9 2011: Hi Mark ~
        I see your point. It is easy for those of us who aren't immersed in the classroom to find a myriad of "what if" potentials. I recognize too your commitment to actually moving forward to effect the change some of us only talk about. And thank you for it. Truly.
        (AND ... I continue to think this is an EXCELLENT debate/question - way to raise awareness.)
  • Aug 7 2011: As a parent, grades and test scores help me get an idea of how my child is doing in relation to expected standards. And according to my expectations. I have 3 children. One is extremely intelligent and can easily achieve straight As. If he gets a B or C that needs to be taken seriously. My other school age child is also very intelligent but not in an academic way. I'm happy with Bs for her. Her strengths such as creativity and independence don't get recognised in the school system very well at this point although I think that ultimately she will be as successful as her brother. Should grades be the be all or end all of everything? Absolutely not. But I would hope that if a child is scoring poorly that the teacher takes the time to work out WHY that child is scoring below expectations and uses it as a starting point to tailor that child's education so that they do have the potential to achieve.
    As a child myself I always liked getting marks because I worked hard and that was one way of recognising that to which anyone could relate. I didn't want to get the same pass score as someone who hadn't worked and who had done the bare minimum.
    Teachers and children need detailed assessments not just a letter grade so that there is some basis for improvement.
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      Aug 7 2011: Donna, I hear so much passion in your words, and as a parent I certainly appreciate this. What I also see is the word "expectation" an awful lot. Expectation can be a very negative word; I try to use it sparingly when teaching. When we hit students with expectations, learning becomes about what the teacher thinks, rather than what the student thinks.

      When my children get report cards, I ask them how they feel about the marks. "Are you happy with what you accomplished? Did you learn? What would you like to improve upon?" Questions like these eliminate expectation and make learning a responsibility that children embrace.

      If you admonish your "A student" for getting a B or a C, then his learning is now about you and your expectations. This is exactly what makes grades deplorable learning killers.

      I appreciate that you were a good student, but you didn't realize as most children don't that you were conditioned to take pride in grades. I would hope that deep down you were really proud of what you had accomplished. I wonder, if you got a grade below an A, did you feel an urge to learn more, or did you feel defeated?

      Students only do "the bare minimum" for one of two reasons: they see the task as useless or they've been defeated by poor grades and feel that, no matter how hard they work, they will fail.

      I hope you'll believe me both as a parent and a teacher speaking from experience, your children don't need grades. Put them in a Results Only Learning Environment, and they'll embrace learning more than ever.

      Finally, I find it interesting that you are willing to settle for less learning from your second child. Consider how your feelings might change if she loved learning as much as the first. Take away the "B or C" label, and she just might.

      Thanks so much for joining the debate.
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    Aug 5 2011: I agree with you. But, for eliminating grades in education, I think teachers should earn more and have less students per class. :-)
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    Aug 4 2011: If you will for one moment, forget 'grading students'. Grades also serve as an indicator to let people know how well the 'teacher' is doing.

    I just dont see how or why I would send my son to a school where the teacher could not be held accountable, as well as, the student. What is mentioned above...sounds like home-schooling, but not every parent or child has the environment for it. In addition, what is so wrong with having both?

    Every teacher who grades now, should be able to provide meaningful narrative feedback as to why the student is being graded what they are.

    I am all for progress and new ideas, but this idea just sounds like an escape plan to stop doing something many believe stifles teachers; not students. I cant help but feel this type of teaching for a child would lead an adult who is socially clueless as to what is expected when finding a job; believing that they can talk their way into or out of something.
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      Aug 6 2011: Steven, I hope all of my students are very capable of talking their way into or out of something. The sort of critical thinking skills required for this are exactly the kind that grow in a ROLE.

      I can't speak much about home schooling, but if it embraces collaboration, autonomy, the elimination of useless methods like homework, worksheets and testing, then, yes, the ROLE is like this.

      I'm not sure how you can judge the quality of a teacher by grades. Let's see, you want to evaluate me on whether my students get good grades, no problem; they'll all get A's. Remember, the teachers give the grades, which is exactly the problem and the subjective nature I've written so widely about that so many people don't seem to understand.

      Sadly, I have the power to "give" any grade I want, even though the letter I give has nothing to do with performance or learning. Yet people continue to say that grades are objective. This assertion is very unreasonable to me.
    • Aug 7 2011: "I just dont see how or why I would send my son to a school where the teacher could not be held accountable, as well as, the student." Steve, there you go being a parent. Don't you know it is 2011? Parents are no longer required to think about the best interest of their child or their development. That is the teacher's job. And, really, Steve, what makes you think you know better than the teacher? Do you hold an advanced degree? Do you have eighteen years of experience with other people's children? If not, shut up - this doesn't concern you, plebe. Just send in your tax dollars and go concern yourself with whatever dreary work you do in the private sector. (Cut to Mike and Mark, nodding in agreement)

      Mark - there is a profound difference between teachers giving grades and students earning grades. That you have repeatedly been so quick to point out your ability to manipulate test grades is starting to make me question your character. Is promoting the ROLE system a way for you to absolve guilt for breaking your own code of honor in the classroom? Stop using the "Yeah but I could be a sack of shit" argument to disqualify honest teachers and the honest, objective system they uphold. You are the only one falling for it.

    • Aug 8 2011: Um - really? Talking your way into and out of things seems to be the MOST desirable job skill these days. It's kept scores of sociopathic business leaders and politicians out of jail. And it certainly seems to be the most desirable and marketable skill in media...

      In what way isn't this preparation for a BS career?
  • Aug 4 2011: I agree with you. I think that learning should be about learning, not who can learn the most or who can learn the best. I think that every person has unique wants and passions and can't simply be placed in a system and have it be expected for them to adapt and succeed in it. I feel that numbers are just a quick, impersonal way to define someone's status so as to save time and effort. But we can't just let a number judge their intelligence or their capability. Someone who didn't get very high grades in English who wants to pursue a graphic arts program (for example) because they feel passionate about art shouldn't be limited to that opportunity because they were 5 tenths off the mark. And yet someone who didn't really care about art, but who had the higher grades, should be able to pursue it because they have a higher number? what does that teach people? that because you are better suited for societies system that you are better suited for being successful? or that because you aren't suited for societies system you must learn to adapt or not be able to accomplish what you want to do?
    I also think that a big problem with the school system these days is that students simply aren't doing what they want. we have access to so much knowledge by just the internet alone that a lot of us have already decided what we're passionate about and what we want. But we have to spend time doing things that we aren't and time being in palces that aren't helping us get to where we wants to be. Surely i can write a 500 word essay on Shakespeare but i think i'd have a much higher grade if i wrote about something i cared about.
    The problem with our generation isn't that we aren't good enough or motivated enough to do anything. It's that we feel that there are too many unimportant things in the way of reaching our goals. We're discouraged. Because we're a generation of imagination, and technology and dreams. and yet we're still living in a society that limits us.
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      • Aug 4 2011: BINGO, Shaken!

        The only people should be encouraging this are,

        a. Teachers - eliminating student's scores also eliminates teacher's scores, now they too can be graded on effort.

        b. Under-performing Students - now no one determines if you are smart but you, kid! Say it with a straight face and it must be true.

        c. Financial Consultants - because we will be making a killing when these morons enter the workforce and need someone to hold their hand from graduation to grave.
        • Aug 4 2011: Why should putting more emphasis on the intrinsic value of learning make someone less competitive? I agree that doing away with grades entirely is not the right choice, but being so focused on competition is not any better. Aren't the leaders of our economy the people who have learned to tap their inner desire to learn more about something?
        • Aug 10 2011: I would like to quote Clarence Darrow who had something to say about competition.

          "A criminal is someone with a predatory instinct who lacked the capital to start a corporation."
      • Aug 4 2011: Wow you just generalized an ENTIRE generation of people! How do you know what all their lives are like?

        edit: Haha well your description describes my educational experience pretty well.... I'm not complaining though
      • Aug 5 2011: Yes, i am appreciative to live in a country with so many opportunities and be part of a generation so advanced. But we aren't talking about the difference between my country and others. we're talking about the education system in mine and other like mine. and thank-you-very-much, i think i have a right to say whatever the hell i want about how I feel about the education system in MY country. I can't speak for anyone else in any other countries and i'm not trying to. Excuse me for speaking my mind, i thought that's what this entire website was devoted to.
        What i said is how i feel and understand the education system to be flawed and i personally would like to change it. It's not that i am unappreciative of what i have, it's that i'd like to use what i have to further myself rather than waste it.
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      Aug 6 2011: Amanda, you have brought a fresh point of view to the debate. Thanks so much for your comments.

      Shaken, regardless of how much or how little someone may have, I'm not sure why this means we should make education boring. I think you may have missed Amanda's point. If I understand her, she wants the right to choose what she learns. She doesn't want to be labeled by a letter that most likely does nothing to define her.
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      Aug 9 2011: Hi Amanda,

      Am I understanding you correctly, that you believe students should not be required to learn things that do not interest them?
  • Aug 3 2011: I have to say that as a teacher (I work as an adjunct professor part time) I think grades are incredibly important to the way students think about the consequences of how hard they choose to work, or possibly how easily something comes to them, and where they stand in general in a class. Now, I don't mean to say that I think the current system is perfect but I think the elimination of grades on the whole is an oversimplified solution to the problem. I agree with the point about meaningful feedback. Ultimately there needs to be the immediate feedback (a ranking system one may say as opposed to a grading system) coupled with a meaningful dialogue about how one can improve their rank (or grade as the case may be).

    I think a major issue that I see in my students is that we as a society have decided to make it too easy for them to fail. By saying that grades are unnecessary I think that we are in turn saying that they are meaningless and that if a student doesn't do well it isn't because of a problem/issue the student has it is because the system is flawed. I think that is a dangerous thought process. In a perfect world, yes having meaningful discourse about how one can improve their efforts towards doing better in a class or school in general would be wonderful; however in that you are assuming that most students want to do better and that is not always true. For that reason I think grades have to stay as a baseline assessment tool and then if you can parse out those that would benefit from a non-traditional feedback mechanism that is where there is room for change.
    • Aug 3 2011: I read your message with the enlighted vision from another TED Talk I was watching yesterday: Alain de Botton's "A kinder, gentler philosophy of success" speech. He was talking about meritocracy, about the underneath competition, how it's great when you succeed... and how it is crushing for those who fail.
      Even the notion of "failure" is linked to that new way of thinking. Alain told us that a century (and maybe a half) ago, a person who didn't reach success was described as an "unfortunate", which has a slightly different meaning from the nowadays "loser" one...

      You told that some children maybe simply seek failure if we don't encourage them through grades. I don't think children seek failure more than others... but maybe they don't seek what others tell them success is.
      Maybe the problem is letting children thinking that if they don't fit in our nowadays school systems, they will fail. And that leads to the point of this talk: since our system doesn't naturally push children towards success in their life, we need to change at least something to our school system.

      I personally have always been afraid of and stressed by the idea to go to school. Why? It is a non-sense. I needed education to have the tools to decide what I wanted to do and to enjoy my own adult life. I knew all that. But that didn't change my feelings about it. And I remember neither my parents or my teachers ever brought me a satisfying answer. And, due to our system, I wonder if they could ever bring it.

      The meritocracy Alain told about has invaded our schools. I am pretty sure a majority of children doesn't feel in a friendly environment at school. They feel competition, reward in case of success, and most of all ridicule if they fail... and of course the "loser" tag virtually stamped on their forehead aswell.

      It's hard to think about a new system because we are not used to it. But we have to try, and for that we need to sweep away our preconceived ideas about what is good or bad in education.
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      • Aug 3 2011: I'm hoping that I understand your question, but ultimately I think the "fear of fair" and the "learning to learn" may come more from how a teacher/educator presents learning to the students than the pressure that a grading system places on them. I think that was alluded to in the previous comment. When I teach I try and convey to my students that it isn't the grade they should be stressed about, but what it represents. The original article said that if you give a student an F they learn nothing, if they get an A they also learn nothing, this again is flawed. I think as a teacher it is my job to make sure they do learn from that F or from that A. I start my class by saying that there are no stupid questions, but the ones that are never asked. I try and make sure that lines of communication are open. If a student of mine gets an F my mind goes to many different options as to why. I try and make sure that they can feel free to talk to me about it. I also try very hard to impart on my students a desire to question, they are always free to discuss their grade as I hope they would feel free to question almost anything presented to them. I think that comes to your last point where learning to learn is something that may unfortunately happen post-formal education. I try and tell my students that while I am their teacher, I will always first be a student. I never purport to know everything and neither should they. Learning comes in different forms, however your mastery of what you have learned has to be quantified, I need to know where I stand in my knowledge base so that I can feel comfortable using that information to make later decisions. Much like you say it influences economy and so forth. For that reason I feel that if a teacher can take the scariness out of learning, an F isn't a shameful thing its an opportunity to understand.
  • Aug 2 2011: I went to a high school where students were given letter grades, but they were based on the student's level of proficiency in meeting 6 competency areas called Learner Expectations. Each paper or project grade was accompanied with an explanation of how well we performed in each LE, which included Complex Thinker, Skilled Information Processor, Effective Communicator, Collaborative Worker, Responsible Citizen and Knowledgeable Person.
    I feel like this was a fairly good compromise between grades and qualitative measures of learning. Unfortunately, many students ignored the Learner Expectations and just looked at the grade, and that is a deeper cultural problem that needs to be fixed.
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      Aug 2 2011: Justin, thank you for this specific information. This sounds like a solid system. I would suggest that if some students ignore the comments in favor of the grade that this bears out much of what I say about grades.

      Imagine the added power of your Learner Expectations, if all students considered them carefully. Minus the letter, they just might do this.

      Thanks for a thoughtful addition to this inspired debate.
      • Aug 8 2011: My high school was part of the Coalition of Essential Schools if you are interested in learning more about the philosophy. Perhaps you have already heard of it.
    • Aug 8 2011: Sounds like an interesting system Justin. Thanks for talking about it. You are so very correct about the "cultural divide" that exists on the question of assessment.
  • Aug 2 2011: The problem is, though, that parents demand a method of knowing what their kids are doing and higher-education requires a way of quantifying a student's aptitude relative to others. If we are to have this, then naturally, competitive students and parents will accentuate the importance of such grades and thereby force everybody else to do the same. This perhaps is a classic case of the stag hunt game ( and because there will always be competitive students, any method of quantification will become like grades.

    As for removing grades altogether, it becomes counterproductive to create alternate feedback mechanisms with more depth due to the fact that such grades must be processed quickly and efficiently for many purposes (such as data-crunching and college admissions). For example, which is better, an "excellent student" or an "excelling student"?
  • Aug 1 2011: If I understand education as a process of discovering potentialities an development, there are two points: first, each person discovers its potentialities and second, other person discover its potentialities.
    Grades are disigned by people who believe that its possible to define the space (school, rooms, ...) and the time in which a person can development its potentialities. I think this in not true anymore. Yes: its time to eliminate grades.
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    Jul 31 2011: Of course it is so easy to agree to your proposal if one knows the dangers of grades - I have two childern and I know this quite well. My answer to the useless grade system was to teach my children not accept any outside judgements as given, as objective or as measures of personality. We need to keep in mind that the grade system is imposed on persons who are just developing their personality - to me this is the worst point of time to apply a grading system.

    Since I needed to help my childern aginst the grade system, I teach them to look at the process of learning of rather than the result of learning. narrative feedback is much better than grades - but still: a higher outside authority tells the story. and of course children in this age of personality building will compare themselves inevitably: which feedback is better than an other? who is the social and intellectual leader in the class ? this peer group dynamic will eat up and misuse the storytelling just as the grades.
    So I would stay with my recommendation even with a storytelling-system: what ever you learned, it is not a measure of your social position or personal development. it is a step in a process each child governs itself - by the way: since my children really do not take school too serious any longer, they are much better at school.

    So said in short. Yes - your idea is an improvement, but No: It is not enough to help to educate.
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      Jul 31 2011: Bernd, I think somewhere along the way you misunderstood my message. I believe narrative feedback is the best replacement for number and letter grades. It is not enough, by itself, to be an education system.

      What I want is to see all teachers create what I call a Results Only Learning Environment, This is truly a system. It creates a workshop setting, year-long projects that encompass all learning outcomes, collaboration, autonomy and self-evaluation.

      I have seen a ROLE change everything in my classroom.
  • Jul 29 2011: Some thoughts - what grade would you give a child for learning to talk or to walk, to learn the colours of the rainbow or the letters of the alphabet, to ponder the number of stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach, why the sky is blue or the grass is green? How much time would you give a child to learn to walk, before telling him to give up trying, because he stumbles too often and will never be good at it?

    What grade would you give a teen to learn a poem by Keats, admire the paintings of Rembrandt, read the novels of Achebe, study the behaviour of butterflies, or practice double integrals - just because she is fascinated by them. I wonder what grades the old literary and science masters got.

    Not assigning grades is not revolutionary - homeschooling parents have, for a long time, been successfully facilitating their children's learning without grades, without judgement.
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      Jul 30 2011: Hear, hear. Thanks for your insight.

      I give your comment an A. Kidding :)
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    Jul 27 2011: I remember the talk on extrinsic motivation. It was very interesting and I can see how your observations in the health care industry support the assumption. There is one important distinction to be made here, however. We tend to live life at the level of our perception and all of us in this discussion are educated adults doing what we love (hopefully). But what of the 14-year old who loves his English class, but can't stand Geometry? In subjects we love (either fully or at least in part), I can see the argument working. Having taught these delightful, but not always motivated, high-schoolers, these assumptions may or may not work. When teaching pre-service teachers at the college level, it's an entirely different story. Grades are completely beside the point (it's the recommendation letter that counts)

    Now, I think I can predict the response to this :) If they're not motivated to learn these subjects at all, why are we teaching them? Great question! What I'd love to see (at least by the time my grandchildren go to school) is a life-long learning model in which students aged 2-102 follow a self-designed plan of learning based upon their own environment, culture, and interests. For instance, my five year old has been consumed with a love for dinosaurs. She talks about them, sings about them, draws them, and posits theories on their demise. We've taken full advantage of this with books, internet resources, videos, trips to museums, and discussions with family members on what they've learned over the years on the topic. This investigation has covered science, math, art, music, writing, and even a level of social studies not entirely expected (one discussion morphed into a debate over how much funding the city of St. Louis should give its science center to expand dino-related activities) Highly motivating? Absolutely. And with no grade or snack attached. If we can envision a program like this to educate our society, grades would be largely unnecessary
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      Jul 27 2011: Wow, Amy, what you describe sounds exactly like a Results Only Learning Environment, which is built on year-long projects that incorporate all of the learning outcomes from one subject, while integrating cross-curricular objectives, as well.

      Our vision can happen much sooner than later, if we make it so. I started a ROLE a year ago, changing everything. I didn't ask for permission; I just did it. The results were beyond amazing. All it takes is action.

      Thanks for your tremendous input.
  • Jul 27 2011: Mark, maybe we would agree on many things if we spoke. But I'll play devil's advocate here. Open ended proposals are great but not useful unless they can draw atleast a faint line towards on the ground implementation (probably this is very non-TEDish). Narrative feedback does not change the game at all. My 2 cents below (I am not teacher and not an expert at anything :))

    - Central idea #1: 'Bad grades demotivate students'. Honestly speaking that really depends on how the teachers and parents explain to kids what a bad grade means. It means you need to work harder and not give up. Add narrative feedback to that and students will have clear direction to channelize thier efforts. The next test would be indicator of actual improvement. I dont see why, if improvement was made as per narrative feedback, the grade won't improve. I do beleive that an earlier bad grade should not stick with a student for life once he has made effort to change it.

    - Central idea #2: 'Grades dont indicate anything about learning'. This is true in specific cases but mostly false in a gerneral sense. Student with 'A' might not necessarily have more knowledge about a subject than one with 'B', but any experiment will show (I have no evidence to back this up, this is an educated guess) clear difference in understanding of subject matter between a student with 'A' and one with 'F'.

    - Central idea #3:'Thirst for learning (as an instinct) can be ignited or detroyed by any kind of grading system'. Current system or any other alternate system of evaluation will not affect this. Learning is a personal quest. No doubt that certain environments, people, stories or encounters ignite a thirst for learning in most of us. That is the only true motivation for pure learning and is independent of what grades you get OR how much money you are paid.
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      Jul 27 2011: Ajay, I appreciate you playing Devil's Advocate. Here's my response to your 3 central ideas:

      Idea 1: Asking students with F's to not give up and try harder is fine and good, if it worked, but it doesn't. Students receive low grades because they are bored with the work and/or find no value in it. An endless stream of F's only serves to make them feel like they'll never achieve anything, so they don't. I have 17 years of experience on this one, and this is a cycle that never ends. F students continue to fail. Students with A averages "top out," and don't tend to try. Soon they are pressured at home to maintain A's, so many cheat.

      Idea 2: The research on grades and their connection to achievement is actually overwhelming, and it says that there's virtually no connection (read anything by Alfie Kohn, John Hattie, Stephen Krashen or Daniel Pink). My own experience -- nearly 3,000 days in the classroom, over 60 grading periods with roughly 2,000 students -- indicates that a D/F student is in many cases just as smart as an A/B student. There are many factors that lead to low and high performing students. Raw intelligence is rarely one of these factors.

      Idea 3: Thirst for leaning is analogous to reading. Students in grades K through 3 typically love reading, because they are learning to read, which opens new worlds to them. Starting in grade 4, students begin reading to learn, and this is where most students begin to hate reading. Thirst for learning works the same way. As soon as students are anchored by traditional methods -- homework, worksheets, quizzes and grades -- their thirst for learning dissipates. You are right about the environment, though. A Results Only Learning Environment is the only kind that will ignite a thirst for learning.

      Thanks for contributing to this debate.
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    RJ Dake

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    Jul 27 2011: I wonder if the debate doesn't miss something that many educators would recognize. We accomplish nothing by offering a negative but offering a positive with no factual basis becomes worthless ... "every child an 'A'" is a failing score as much as "no one makes the grade."

    What is significantly more important, and this can be extended to employee evaluations, social measures ... maybe even Angie's List, is that we need to find recognition for success and for the skills posessed. I'm not being "Polyanna," I am noting that encouragement provides productive energy and the converse nets demoralization. Are we hoping for a productive society or a destructive one? Education, as the body most responsible for transmission of culture, must have a realignment of focus.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the slogan or the purveyor, "Yes we can!" struck a cord. Our nation hungers for ANY affirmation and most will reward affirmation with affirmation or productivity. We need to reconsider what we want from education and put aside our traditions enough to implement what we have understood for decades will be more productive and beneficial for our future. We need to invite students, children, and those around them to SUCCEED!

    RJ Dake
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      Jul 27 2011: Hey RJ, I don't think this is "Polyanna" at all. In fact, I believe we need many more people echoing your sentiments from the mountaintops.

      I believe results-only learning provides the kind of affirmation you're alluding to. It's not stickers and "good jobs." However, it creates the freedom of choice in learning that is sorely missing, which affirms the value of all learners. Students in a Results Only Learning Environment feel good about themselves and develop a remarkable thirst for learning, because they are not punished by traditional methods and meaningless letter grades, even A's.

      Thanks so much for your meaningful feedback.
  • Jul 27 2011: Yes.(!) But why stop there? (not to say you would) I think the very word 'education' is the problem.

    Education implies a sense of rigidity; a system. Within rigidity and systematization, I believe that this 1-dimensional approximating (of that which to characterize as n-dimensional would still be grossly misleading -- we might as well give out clay mouldings instead of report cards), which we call 'grading', is a foregone conclusion.

    Learning, I believe, is the goal; education is our current solution. Education is about worldly knowledge, but learning, I believe, also includes self knowledge.

    The information age brings an abundance of worldly knowledge. It seems to me that the underlying assumption of any given high school curriculum is that there's an information shortage; to the point that self-knowledge is secondary, if at all acknowledged.

    In this way, I contend that grades, to which knowledge level can be (relatively) easily mapped, were useful decades ago. But knowledge is trivial now, knowing yourself is not; education is easy, learning is more profound.

    So I say: Why not have students teach and evaluate each other? Not just as an exercise, but as an intrinsic part of the institutional culture.

    Consider the nuances involved in explaining anything to anyone. The ego-taming involved. The creativity to come up with the right explanation of the right length for a specific person in a specific situation. The joy of sharing that "Oh, I get it!" moment.

    Consider the difficulty of evaluating anybody or anything. The trauma and humility of being wrong about it. The self-reflection that uncovers hypocrisy. The compassion that follows in suit.

    I admit that designing a system that makes this practical would be a huge challenge. However, this could be far more scaleable: Teacher shortage? The students are the teachers!
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      Jul 27 2011: Chan, your understanding of what I 'm trying to do is amazing. You're absolutely right that using narrative feedback is only the beginning. What I want is a Results Only Learning Environment, which embraces the self-evaluation, autonomy and intrinsic motivation you speak of so eloquently.

      I love your term, "ego-taming." I agree completely that getting students involved in self-reflection and evaluating one another is critical to 21st-century learning. This is where a ROLE comes in. I hope you'll read more about it at and comment there as well.

      Thanks so much for your invaluable insight.
      • Jul 29 2011: Wow.....I love your website. If you are a parent, I envy your children.

        It's knowing that there are people like you doing these kinds of things that forms the basis for my fundamental optimism about the world.

        Thank you for this opportunity to vent, and I sincerely wish you success in your endeavours.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thanks for your kind words and support, Chan. I am a parent of two wonderful kids, a boy, 8, and girl, 7.

          Thanks again.
    • Jul 27 2011: Please define for me "self knowledge." Are you talking philosophically? Spiritually? Needs wise? Knowledge of emotions, values, morals, what?
      • Jul 29 2011: For me, self-knowledge is ultimately realizing how alike I can be to anyone.

        I believe philosophy, morality, spirituality are logical outcomes.

        The elements that form, what I call self-knowledge, can be a list as rich as what would constitute worldly knowledge.

        Here are some that come to mind:
        - Recalling thought-chains and their causalities (e.g. Why am I thinking about rabbits? Oh, because this just happened, then I thought this, etc)
        - Being able to identify not only instances of long-lasting, obvious emotions, but also short bursts of subtle emotions, their causes and their physical manifestations (e.g. breaking eye contact the moment an uninteresting discourse begins, shaking legs at the onset of restlessness, etc.)
        - Empathy; the acquired skill of considering what must be going on in someone else's head (important!)
        - Understanding why some details are remembered and others are not (i.e. memory skills)
        - Likes/dislikes/disinterests, and recalling the chain of events that have led to them and understanding how they affect your decisions
        - Understanding the mechanics of your own attention (what grabs it, what does not) and ultimately having control over it

        Essentially, I think self-knowledge is understanding the mechanics of your self (the thing that Thandie Newton discusses in her talk).

        The educational systems I have experienced either consider self-knowledge as non-existent, unimportant, as common-sense and/or something that is magically acquired with the passing of time and subsequently undeserving of any serious attention.

        I believe that changing this can be one of the great opportunities of our generation.
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          Jul 29 2011: I agree and it was interesting to read your list. Our minds are not under our complete control a lot/all of the time (possibly an understatement), and self-mastery is perhaps the grand pursuit of all knowledge. With a solid foundation of self awareness, I'm sure anyone can achieve much more. Doubts, distractions, inappropriate emotion; even neuroses, paranoia, obsessive compulsions and so on, can affect performance dramatically. These deleterious manifestations are common, and often mild enough to go undiagnosed, but have huge accumulative effects. But the whole territory is so complex, how could schools teach anything about it? Does anyone understand it, really - so who would teach? I think making school a safe place to be definitely helps, so students are not afraid or intimidated, and can express themselves fully - minimize bullying for example. Perhaps bullying is another symptom of an overly rigid system and ROLE could eradicate this as well, as seems to be the claim (given there are no discipline issues), so there's another possibly huge plus. I'm not sure grades or feedback apply to self-mastery, do they?
      • Jul 30 2011: Ian,

        I agree that the territory is complex. But at the same time, I don't think we need to break it down into its elements and teach those elements one at a time.

        I have three ideas in this respect:
        1. Students should teach other students
        - I estimate that it requires a great degree of self-mastery to actually accomplish teaching

        2. The art of conversation and listening should be taught
        - I think deep, balanced and meaningful conversation can only be had with sufficient self-mastery

        3. Meditative practices with neuro-metric feedback should be implemented

        1 and 2 can be coupled with video recordings of those sessions for later review. I think watching ourselves on video is strangely instructive.

        3 may be a real possibility in the near future. With more and more research being done on the neurological correlates of meditative practices (e.g. Mind & Life Foundation), it may become possible to measure the progress of meditative practices such as Vipassana and the like. And if this can be done on simple EEG devices that are beginning to proliferate (think Emotiv Systems), I think meditative practices deserve serious attention.
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          Jul 31 2011: Hi Chan. I like the thoughtfulness of you comments. Certainly, when one teaches something, one's own knowledge and understanding grows. It was surprising to discover many of the problems foreign students have with English, and I had to learn a lot to be able to guide students through language patterns that I had just taken for granted. I think students would benefit a lot from this, both in terms of subject mastery, and social skills. Their maturity and responsibility towards each other would increase - this all sounds great. The art of conversation and listening would have to develop to meet these goals. As for meditation, I'm aware of dozens of practices and I think it would be very difficult to standardize anything across an educational stysem. It's a much more controversial area. So, the authorites could allow each school free choice about incorporating different elements of meditaion into their syllabi, but I wouldn't make it compulsory. Keep it as an extra-curricular activity because I think it's a very personal pursuit and still a minority activity, despite growth in it's popularity. Brain scans to measure progress (however you'd define progress) is still science fiction, I think, but of course sci-fi today can be old hat tomorrow :)
    • Jul 29 2011: Look, as a semi-recent high school graduate who learned more outside of school on my own than in, I think grades suck and are a great way of rewarding people who put way too much effort into wasteful tasks. The reason why I graduated 60th in my class but was voted most likely to succeed was because I knew things that mattered. As much as I hate grades, they're a necessary evil.

      I'll give you that if we lived in small communities and didn't need skilled professions we could throw grades out the window today. The problem is a secondary education doesn't get you anything in our complex society. People have to go to college. Employers have to hire a limited number of people. You can't say, "John got a gold star in sharing, empathy, math, and reading. He would be a great addition to your university." At least not if there are ten thousand other people with gold stars. You can't say "John was a great engineering student at our university" without an objective measure of how well he mastered advanced math and expect him to get a job anywhere.

      Find a real way to satisfy universities and employers without grades and I will campaign it all day long.

      Grades are necessary, but the learning can be altered. Kahn Academy has the best vision I've seen on where learning needs to go. Let's find a way to get the technology into kids' hands now.

      College isn't for everyone. Let's stop teaching math and science to those who have no interest in it. Business skills are much more practical and applicable. Let's get everyone who doesn't want to go to a university in a trade school or starting their own business. Leave the grades to kids who want to go to college.

      I'm all for teaching philosophy, but teaching should not BE philosophy. Socrates wasn't trying to build planes, computer networks, or manage finances.

      Change how curriculum is taught, not how it is evaluated.
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        Jul 29 2011: Brian, the Results Only Learning Environment changes everything, not just evaluation. There are no traditional methods at all, and meaningful narrative feedback creates a real thirst for learning in students.

        Real feedback isn't saying a student got a gold star. You can see examples at my blog,

        Thanks for weighting in.
      • Jul 30 2011: Brian,

        I think you present a very practical view of what can be changed.

        However, I take exception to your implying that empathy is somehow easy or unimportant. And I also find that your 'gold star' example is exactly the kind of disinterest in self-knowledge that I think is the source of one of our generation's greatest opportunities.

        You mention that business skills are much more practical and applicable. What are these exactly? What is involved in networking? What is involved in customer service? What is involved in negotations? What is involved in a good business decision? What is meant by "It's business, not personal"? I contend that it is exactly the things that are involved in what I call 'self-knowledge' that form the basis for what you call 'business skills'.

        In fact, I love your idea! Entrepreneurship as a mandatory part of the curriculum would be amazing. Your grade would be the accomplishments of your enterprise.
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        Jul 31 2011: Hi. I agree with much of what you said. I think we have to be careful not to separate students too soon, but having a less academic route for those who'd rather get into a trade faster is the right approach, I think. Refering to Chan's comment, I don't think you were saying empathy is unimportant, but just difficult to measure and not a substitute for grades. I had a look at Kahn Academy. I haven't had time yet to judge how good it is, but I agree there's a big furture for on-line lessons. I love them: so convenient, and once the market provides a good choice of providers, schools could be almost exclusively for projects and collaboration, not learning the data. At school, you have the teacher you're given; on-line, you can pick and choose, mix and match. Now I have to take up maths again! Cheers.
  • Jul 25 2011: Rediculous. If the entirity of your argument is that grades are subjective to the teacher's feelings, you're wrong. In science, laws and theories are developed upon structures of objective observation, of diligent and tireless testing, and of strict mathematics. Those mathematics are developed upon the rigidity and consistancy of the numerical system. Such a system is understood through language, the structure of which consists of vocabulary, vocabulary consisting of: a) the rules of spelling, the basis of sound translated upon paper, and b) definition, the understanding that such sounds have meaning; and grammar, which is the framework that gives words complexity, depth, and context.

    Where is the subjectivity in any of these subjects? If your mysterious female student didn't study and didn't know the material, she deserves to know she didn't do her work. If she did study, if she grasps the material, that student deserves to know she's on the right track. The grading system works well in this respect. And it works well in the case of a child having studied and still failed. This should be the first sign that additional work is needed, a sign that the child should not quit, but approach the teacher for "meaningful feedback," as is their right, and that the teacher should provide feedback and resources, as is their job. Knowledge is a personal pursuit. If it's to be obtained, their must be a personal drive behind it. Those who chase the grades don't understand the meaning behind the knowledge. They are inconsiquential--they don't matter. Those who strive towards that understanding and seek to better it are the ones who should, and do, benefit the most from it.

    Your approach would lead us into an undefinable, unmeasurable state of learning--would likely be more subjective. If anything, the grading system should be even more strictly adhered to so as to not devalue the A, nor "equalize" the F, as is the case with the "No Child" act.
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      Jul 25 2011: Jarret, I'm not sure who the "mysterious female" you speak of is, so I can't address that. I don't understand your diatribe about "laws and theories" etc. You write like someone who likes to debate, but your points are so poorly presented that it's difficult to debate with you.

      I wonder what experience, if any, you have to back up any of whatever it is you're trying to say.

      Incidentally, if I had only written that your comment deserves a C, what would you think?
      • Jul 27 2011: Since I gave points and examples about the objectivity already present within school and stated that an objective law requires objective systems of learning, and since you asked your question and replied with no such example of your own, I'd think you were a troll for trying to bate me with a "C". If you have a logical reason for wanting to change it, please explain.
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          Jul 27 2011: I agree with what you are saying Jarret, but I also believe Mark is correct in that children do need more meaningful feedback than they are currently given. However, to achieve what Mark is asking for would require more time and resources than most teachers are currently equipped to handle. Simply put, we need more teachers and smaller class sizes if they were to personally monitor each of their students and focus on the specific areas the students are struggling with. Unfortunately, with the public education system as underfunded as it is and the current economic climate we are weathering, I don't see any way this will improve.
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          Jul 27 2011: Petros, you are right that we need more teachers. In order to be most effective, especially using narrative feedback; smaller class sizes are necessary. However, we can't continue with a flawed system just because we have classes of 25-30. With practice, teachers can learn to be just as effective with narrative feedback as they can be giving grades, even in large classes. Like anything, it's a skill that has to be mastered.

          Thanks for chiming in on this.
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      Jul 25 2011: Jarret. You said "In science, laws and theories are developed upon structures of objective observation, of diligent and tireless testing, and of strict mathematics". That is absolutely true, but these theories are continuously being examined and studied for clarity and potential imperfections. Over time flaws have been found in every theory ever created; possibly without any exception. As far as my understanding goes our current structure, or formula you may say of education has remained relatively unchanged since the around 17th century. This system of academic measurement is far beyond outdated. It's measurement is purely linear and based on qualities that are no longer needed. Our current system of grading is squandering our students creative and cognitive capacities. Now tell me how that is objectively and mathematically sound.

      However I do believe Mark might be wrong by saying that all grades need to be removed entirely from our schools, but what I do believe is what we have in our schools right now has absolutely no place in our society. This system must be entirely removed and replace with a system that gives a much broader, and in depth measure of a students abilities. One that has a much larger and accurate scale, whcih has room for improvement for the student and the system ifself.
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        Jul 25 2011: Jesse, thanks for bringing clarity to the subject. You're absolutely right about the system being flawed; I write about this extensively in my book. With plenty of loud voices, like the ones sharing their thoughts here, we may just make a remarkable change.

        Thanks for your insight.
      • Jul 27 2011: I actually wanted to go into what you said about science but I ran out of room. Your right, and as such discoveries are made, schools should update there knowledge of them accordingly. That doesn't mean, however, that there was not any rigorous testing that went into these new theories; likely, it's the opposite, as "proven" theories can be much harder to change. As we define the laws, so do we refine the tools used to measure them, refined not by how we feel aboout them, but by the logical procession of wants to needs. It is still objectivity that rules.

        Now I've seen the people in here going on about how the system is flawed. I think it is straightforward and simple. Perhaps you could elaborate upon some of the systems weaker points for me.
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          Jul 27 2011: The related talk in this page does a much better job than I think I can ever do at summarizing the system's weaknesses. I highly suggest you watch it as well as other talks by the speaker if you wish to learn more.
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      Jul 25 2011: Hi. You seem to have misunderstood Marks argument, and thrown in some comments about a few other arguments that we've not been privy to. ;) However, entwined in the twists and turns of your C grade effort (just kidding) was a valid point, I think, about the exactness of science/math, and therefore the possibility of meaningful grades that do objectively represent ability, and then feedback can be added afterwards.
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        Jul 25 2011: Ian, I would certainly be willing to add narrative feedback to grades (in fact, I am still bound by my district to give a final report card grade to my students). I simply don't see the need for the grade.

        As much as I appreciate your interpretation of Jarret's argument, my experience tells me that grades are not in the least bit objective. Grades in most schools come from an accumulation of points, awarded to individual activities, projects and tests. The problem is the arbitrary nature of these numbers. For example, if I assign a written response to a novel we've read, I may decide that the response is worth 100 points. Upon reading the essay, I may feel that it merits a score of 80/100, based on some subjective rubric. I can almost guarantee that if I give the same essay and rubric to another teacher, the score will deviate by as much as 10 percent. So, who is right? More importantly, how do these numbers help the student understand his writing abilities.

        Later the same student gets a 70/100 on a test. Of course, the test questions may not have been a fair assessment of his knowledge either, and if a different teacher created the test, he may have scored higher. Now, he has 150/200 for a grade of C. Although there is math involved, it is definitely not objective.

        However, if I provide specific details about what writing skills are mastered and which need work, and allow the student to return to the essay and change it, in order to demonstrate mastery, then we've done something truly remarkable.

        Thanks again for your part in this amazing debate. You have much to offer.
        • Jul 27 2011: Essays on novels are opinions based upon opinions. I've never understood how someone could get a lower grade than 100% on an essay based upon what they took from any reading (other than bad mechanics). That's something elseI'd like to know. Are you an english teacher?
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          Jul 27 2011: @ Jarret - Don't know about Mark, but I am! And my students can tell you that I am willing to listen to just about any well-reasoned (and/or entertaining!) argument they can dream up.
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          Jul 27 2011: Sure, no system is completely objective or fair. That's life. The grades my English teacher gave me always seemed to represent the work I'd put in, and it was nice to have my effort acknowledged. At other times, such as my F for french, the grade did indeed make me dislike the subject. Thankfully, I'm now quite good at french and enjoy it again, but some good feedback at the time would have helped a lot. So I see benefit in both tools, depending on how they're used. You see, unfair feedback notes could also cripple my motivation as much as a bad grade.
          Here's my next question, should you desire one ;) You've mentioned several times that you tell a student when they've mastered something. How do you decide they've mastered it? The label of 'Mastery' sounds like an A grade to me.
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        Jul 27 2011: Yes, I am an English/language arts teacher (17 years in grades 7, 8 and 10). I used to score essays, using points, percentages and grades and, yes, some students received less than 100 percent. The problem wasn't the score. The bigger issue was that my students rarely got a chance to demonstrate mastery learning. They received their score, based on a rubric or some other formula I created, and then we moved to the next activity. In the long run, most students were hurt by the grade and didn't learn much.

        I have changed my classroom into a Results Only Learning Environment, where project-based learning, collaboration and student autonomy create mastery. So, to stick with the essay example, when my students write, we focus on various mini lessons on the fundamentals of writing. (Jarret is right; it's difficult to evaluate opinion.) With narrative feedback, I can explain which learning outcomes were mastered and which were not. Then, I ask students to return to the activity and make changes or additions, based on my feedback and their review of a prior lesson.

        This way, they can know they've learned, and they are never punished by a low score or percentage.

        Thanks Jarret and Sushan for keeping the debate going.
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        Jul 27 2011: Ian, the mastery question is a wonderful question, and a tricky one, too. You are right in that it can sound like an A. Typically, students never reach mastery until they've made numerous changes and additions to something. So, though this is a subtle distinction, my feeling is that mastery is reached through trial and error. In the grade world, students typically get one grade, then move on to something else.

        Plus, mastery for one student may be different from that of another. In other words, differentiating instruction is easier with narrative feedback, I believe.

        Hope this helps.
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          Jul 28 2011: Thanks. I'd certainly like to see all this in action, especially with some of the most difficult students I've encountered. Actually, the really troubled students are troubled for reasons exterior to the education system (in part anyway), so it wouldn't be fair to test your system on them - fascinating to try it though. I can see how it would motivate most students. I'll take a look at your on-line material. At the moment I'm only working with individuals anyway, but I could improve the feedback I give them. Do you think there are any drawbacks to your system? Even great sytems have small weaknesses in my experience. Have you had any difficulties with it at all?
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        Jul 28 2011: Hmm., another good question, Ian. I'd say the biggest drawback is that more people aren't using results-only learning. It reminds me of when online grading systems were first introduced. Not many teachers were interested in giving up their old hard-copy grade books.

        When I tell colleagues about results-only learning, they are more than skeptical. "What do you mean you don't grade?" they ask incredulously. "No rules and consequences? How do you control your classes?" "How do you assess if you don't give unit tests?" Most think I'm crazy; some even think I'm a bad teacher.

        Today, no one uses a hard-copy grade book; the mere thought of it would seem outlandish. As long as I continue to tout results-only learning, I know it will one day be as trendy as the online grade system.

        So, the simple answer to your question about weaknesses is that the ROLE is so new that it scares people. I have to deal with the naysayers. Sometimes it gets tiresome, but I forge ahead.
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          Jul 28 2011: it's like writing on stones was harder, so they had to value what they write to be written on stones, I think that was a tough job

          then moving to paper books, writing becomes easier, they don't have to bother about the value of what to write that much........

          soon no need to use resources to manufacture paper no longer (the case of digital books)
          most importantly to creating a cheaper devices for digital books......... we say this era is about technology but we can't create another device!

          we can utilize the resource to something more efficient
          time has changed we can't stick to old traditional books

          I don't care what people think, give them some time they will value what they have later
          & consider better services offered due to costs reduction (for producers of paper books)

          grading system, people don't know what it's like to just attend courses or know it by experience, people have see a raw model so they keep him as a bench mark to match their performance with
          the human being has a wonderful feature, coping, but they prefer what they know
          so systems must be more informative
          enlighten people to the better
          or ...I like this one, give them the option for some time
          you can chose a paper book (with extra costs) or a digital one (with a title environment friendly)

          Friends & colleagues tell stories how different, experiencing getting training in certain corporations or business is
          they add + my assumption about "coping", this gives education, in current structure, less importance in this era

          some might argue, issues about education & medicine (they criticize how would doctors and/or scientists do trial & error on humans!)
          well, that what was happening for ages, but given current experiences, facilities & information their chance to do mistakes has reduced to minimum or zero

          now, what if students were with grades of A, A+
          what difference will it make!
          still they are following what they have been told only
          chances to come up with newer ideas is something different
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          Jul 28 2011: I haven't heard the term Results Only Learning before, Mark, but much of what you say is being taught in teacher training and done in many schools. The movement is away from lectures, multiple choice, worksheets, etc. and into multiple modalities, student-driven instruction, leveraging technology (and I am with you, I love having my students bring in whatever new gadgets they've got - if every student owned an iPhone, our equipment budget would drop dramatically), etc.

          When you say that you have no discipline issues in the ROLE classroom, sounds like you mean what are traditionally perceived as discipline issues - staying in your seat, no talking, basically, all those behaviors that are intrinsic to kids and make you wonder who is setting who up for failure!

          The language of mutual respect is powerful.
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          Jul 29 2011: You certainly are forging ahead. I read your website and listened to the Symposium preview. Good luck with that tomorrow and well done for what you've already achieved! Keep repeating the same positive message and it'll get through eventually. It sounds like you're classroom is quite noisy; I'd be taking advantage of the 'work anywhere' policy as I like peace and quiet, but I guess others like the interaction. Out of interest, what proportion of students give themselves an A for their report card? Are there many who give themselves average grades, and how do you feel about that - not the grade (I know how you feel about those by now) but the students perception of themselves? Should they be confident about an A, or a little self-critical too?
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          Jul 30 2011: @Mark, I'd like to reiterate Ian's question from before. As a classroom educator, what specific trouble-shooting, issues, adjustments have you as a teacher had to make in the pricess of implementing ROLE? I know that I have systems in place that work in my classroom, but also that none of them are perfect. What evolutions have you made in your understanding of ROLE?
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        Jul 28 2011: Yes, Sushan, you are right about discipline issues. These trivial things trouble many traditional teachers, because they haven't yet let go of control.

        Glad to hear ROLE strategies are being used in teacher training where your from. Where is that? I'd like to hear more.
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          Jul 29 2011: I can't agree more about the discipline issues piece. My first year or so of teaching made me realize really quickly that is was generally not the kid, but ME. I'm not syaing that there are never any problems in terms of student behavior, but if I keep my students' needs in mind as I'm designing, there are many less. And, yes, most of us have a need to not be needlessly bored!

          I live and work in New Mexico (hardly known as a bastion of educational success or reform but we're trying!)
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        Jul 29 2011: Ian, I appreciate the sentiments. Although I do have more A's in my class, you'd be amazed at how many assign lower report card grades to themselves.

        I've had as many as 34% give themselves lower grades from one quarter to the next. Some are very self-critical.
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          Jul 29 2011: Yes, but I think it's ok so long as they're acknowledging room for improvement, which they now recognise, rather than feeling failure. However, if the grades get lower from one quarter to the next, I'd say there's something to be addressed. Interestingly, if you abolished grades, this indicator of the students perception would be lost. Could it be that self-grading is better than no grades?
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        Jul 30 2011: No, Ian, I don't think perception of learning would be lost without the grades. I would always have students self-evaluate, based on two-way narrative feedback. I would still have performance review at the end of a grading period. The verbal and written feedback would always indicate the learning.

        Honestly, I believe a lot of students grade themselves down, because there is so much integrity in the system. I had one student, typically an A-B student in other classes, grade herself from an A to a D in one marking period, because she struggled on a major research project. She told me she gave herself the D because she hadn't met the guidelines. She knew this without the grade. Best of all, she wanted to return to the project and demonstrate mastery, even though the grading period was over.

        That's the power of he ROLE.
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          Jul 30 2011: I agree. I wouldn't bother with the self-grading either, but self-evaluation is a powerful mechanism when done with integrity. I have no more questions at the moment, but will continue to watch this space :) Thanks a lot.
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        Jul 30 2011: Sushan, the most challenging part of the ROLE has been to remain steadfast in its philosophies when being pushed by students and colleagues. The rare occasion when students say, "Why can't you just give me a grade like my other teachers?" presents a challenge that must be faced.

        It's important to constantly reflect on each day and think about what must be done to get around issues like this one.

        Sometimes colleagues question results-only learning. Some say that when I don't grade their students, it breaks down the system. Again, it's critical to continue fighting the fight.

        Finally, I'm always building year-long projects. I feel that my projects can always improve. I want to create more choices for students and encourage them to demonstrate learning outcomes in their own ways. It's a lot of work, so I'm reminding myself why I do it.
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          Aug 1 2011: Thanks, Mark - I really appreciate the "in the trenches" feedback. I know that I have had several conversations that sound like what you quoted above with my students as well. That up-front honesty and clarity with them pays off big time for all concerned in my (much less than yours) experience. Is there a place I can go to see some o0f the projects that you have created in years past? I am interested to see the structure of your planning and how you use mini-lessons. Too bad our offices are so far apart! Thanks for opening this one up!
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        Aug 2 2011: Sushan, hopefully, you'll read my blog, I'll update throughout the year with specifics on the ROLE system.

        Thanks for contributing.
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      Aug 2 2011: Helena tu estas afirmando algo que no siempre es posible demostrar. El daño no es irreversible si el gradio o calificacion es merecido. No debemos temer por una calificacion. Lo que debemos temer es no estudiar o no saber estudiar cuando un mal maestro o profesor toma la clase.
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    Jul 25 2011: I am not sure that eliminating grades per se is the answer. We still need a yardstick to determine whether the material has been mastered. I would prefer to see a cumulative measure of competence in each area. Did the person actually comprehend what % of the material, in what areas and what needs improvment? Is it sufficient to go on to the next level. I think that we need to start educating people on a continuum rather in lock step with others. The bright child needs to be able to whizz along until they hit the obstacle that needs more intensive teaching and kids who need more help in an area should get it while learning mastery and success in areas that they are talented in.
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      Jul 25 2011: Yes, abolish class teaching and have individual learning programs that students get through at their own pace, with teachers being mobile between students to help where necessary - this requires a basic training in study skills, because students would have to be far more autonomous than they are used to.
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        Jul 25 2011: Hi Ian, yes, I think that the lock step approach is absolutely killiing kids and their creativity. Putting passionate learning on hold until the least interested/able kid gets it is just too damaging to potential. This is where I think computerized learning and games can really be brought in to feed the natural human inclination to learn.
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          Jul 25 2011: The use of games and computers is very interesting. I was recently involved with an 'edutainment' company. I think you should start a new discussion about this as it deserves it's own space :)
  • Jul 25 2011: I agree with the point of view of Salman Khan (Khan Academy). That whether a student gets an A or a D is irrelevant if they don't go on to master the subject, i.e get 100%. That is, even getting an A is insufficient if there are loopholes in knowledge and the class simply moves on to the next topic.

    From a maths point of view, I believe the system should switch from a letter system to the more precise system of simply having a percentage score. And the percentage score should be accompanied with verbal feedback as to which parts of the topic the child is having difficulty with and should focus on. Feedback should also address the level of effort that the teacher understands that a child put in.

    From an English point of view, grades should not exist in any form because marking of essays is highly subjective. Instead focus should once again be on verbal feedback and the teacher should highlight their general impression of the piece and this should be accompanied with an understanding of the level of effort put in by the student as well as very specific criteria with regards to how to improve the piece.

    Letter grades can have many things associated with them and can, as such, modify the way a student works in the classroom. On one hand, students can strive to achieve the elusive A (however if the system was reformed and all students worked hard on their own weaknesses then I'm sure there would be just as much of an improvement). On the other hand, students can become branded with the label of being a B or C student and this can lead to the self fulfilling prophecy of the marks they expect and get. Similarly, if a student consistently gets low marks, this can lower their confidence in themselves and they will stop trying to improve.

    Students' main goal in school should be to learn as much as possible, not to get an mark which is ultimately insignificant.
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      Jul 25 2011: Julian, I agree in most areas. Thanks for your insightful feedback.
      • Jul 25 2011: I'm interested to know which areas you don't agree in.
        • Jul 25 2011: I do get "A"s but I don't think they were well-earned. To me it felt more like cranking physics / financial formulas, learning the optimized methodical approach to making templates for questions, predicting what my biology teacher was going to put as multiple choice on tests, what meaningless essay / poem will I have to analyze (most consisted of themes of discrimination, oppression of freedom, etc), the "technical aspects" of essays (style / POV / references / paragraph structure / flow ) than the actual content/analysis of itself, how well I could manually follow picture by picture tutorial to do tedious tasks on Siblieus for music or IT-Business, etc. If anything, I did less well on subjects that gave me no relevant pointers to why I was learning what I was learning and did better on subjects that used my capacity to think, use the information I had and come up with some sort of conclusion or analysis of historical or future events and what possible benefits / downfalls are involved at play or what other inter-dependencies would alter this problem or what approaches may be the best from a systematic level.

          As much as I could and wish to validate my current 13 years of education, I could only find joy in informing others as a tutor when others did "not" get it. Perhaps early as 8 years of age, however I can say much of it was wasted. I hardly remember medieval weapons, metamorphic rocks, the history of Louis Riel..

          Sometimes what I was taught was repeated in the best, other times I learned sporadically..although much of it also included naming convention. There might have been no proof at all for what was taught or its relevance (i.e. trig in grade 10) or optics. The transition in each summer has always been dumping and forgetting what was taught and simply remain in the population to advance next year. This to be my contempt, is abysmal and grades only perpetuate such a system when results in the form of raw scores / comparisons (i.e. A++ test service gurant
    • Jul 25 2011: Hmm, I think grades overall are one of the fundamental problems in educational systems. As a high school student, most students alike are more akin to knowing the course grade, the assignment grade, the exam prep, the scholarship practices/SAT testing, parental pressure (depends on your parents and their previous exposures/influences, i.e. good grades -> university -> job / bad grades -> poverty/death in some parts of eastern Asia countries where doctors/dentists are more prevalent because of that structure) than the actual content/course. And even then, we must ask what good is to be tested on something to be simply forgotten in a week?

      I memorize numbers, methods, facts, interpretations and put out some cohesive system offered by the teachers in order to pass these tests / quizzes. In the end, what I get is gapping holes of knowledge in the subject area that I am learning about. The grades may not even be representative of the effort / knowledge I have, I may have went through the course content again, the teacher may have not given precisely what was taught and what was put on the test, people may just want to just barely pass / cram "study", etc.

      Putting aside of the representative value of grades, to me it is one of the more demotivating factors for learning. I take APS/Philosophy and several other subjects. The ones I enjoy the most are the ones that I tend to do the best even when the teacher is not as great. Its true I have a capacity to master all of these subjects but pointing me to exercise after exercise, lecture after lecture, note after note will do little to inspire me to want and go out to learn something new. I always thought to myself, some of these lessons always could be condensed in a 15 minute video online in some form or way and even to more depth. I don't understand how sharing knowledge ought to be prohibited in forms of isolation, class advancement and tests/projects/assignments.
  • Jul 25 2011: The problem is not with grades per se, it's what they represent.

    Grades are just a carrot used to bait kids into learning. Just as a horse doesn't learn to calmly walk a path when led by a carrot a student doesn't learn for its own sake when the only possible meaningful achievement they can obtain is a letter on a piece of paper. It gets worse when the letter is reduced to meaninglessness because of the pressure for the school to preform and retain its funding. It's then that you get a school system full of kids doing work for which they will get close to nothing. What does a "B" in high school calculus really mean? Does it mean you know calculus? Spare me.
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    Jul 25 2011: Although I agree that sometimes grades can be arbitrary or unfair, I believe any other kind of rating/review system, whether it's narrative feedback or giving letters and percentages, would be just as inefficient when universally accepted. There is no perfect way of measuring a student's talent or ability, because not only are they "hidden" at times, but they are often infinite and unpredictable.What I think we should focus on is the system of educating the teachers. A system to help change their minds to see more openmindedly, looking for the hidden potentials in students and being true educators who inspire the students to self'explore and self'develop.
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    Jul 25 2011: Where qualifications (e.g. degrees) are concerned, surely grades are needed?
    But in schools maybe you're right. We don't want to produce 'grade grabbers', we want open minds, skilled learners and people with lust for life and sense of worth and well-being. This is why there is much debate about the SATs, and whether they're actually any good. But, to get rid of grades you need attentive, broad minded, farseeing, understanding teachers. There just aren't enough of them. For many people, teaching is a fall back career. Its sad but true.
    Maybe if the education system made people think more about what they enjoyed doing rather than making sure they got those A grades, or making them feel stupid for getting an F, maybe we would have better teachers?
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      Jul 25 2011: Adam, I agree on most counts. I don't see how grades are any different for degrees, though. To me, narrative feedback is better in every case.
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        Jul 25 2011: Well, I suppose that's because I see degrees as being less about the education, and more about getting something that will look good on your CV.
        Its sad, I know. Maybe this is all down to the grade system.

        But also, I don't think its possible to get rid of the grade system now because our teachers just aren't up to it. And it would require some extreme changes. Baby steps, I suppose...

        Also I think the potential psychological implications of grades makes it more important to get rid of them in schools before higher education.
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          Jul 25 2011: Yes, we agree completely. Sadly, you are spot on about teachers not being up to it, when it comes to eliminating grades. I'm working very hard on this. It's why I started this debate and why I wrote a book on results-only learning.

          With continued discourse, like what we have here, I think we can make grades disappear in the not-so-distant future. Thanks, Adam, for your thoughts.
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        Jul 25 2011: Thanks for starting the discussion :)
        I am also looking into teaching, one-to-one piano tuition (I'm about to start my final year of my degree, so I'm not in the real world yet..). I will keep all of this in mind when I start! Learning > Grades :)
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          Jul 25 2011: Your open-mindedness will serve you well. Best of luck.
  • Aug 11 2011: Tony, thanks for your feedback. It is good to know that what you have noticed is what I noticed as well. It is heartening to me that there are professors like you still employed out there.

    I fear that it won't be long until all instruction in the US devolves to the point where minimum wage drones repeating rote instructions to standardized exercises and tests replace teaching and learning.

    On that happy thought, have a great day.
  • Aug 11 2011: Thanks for the feedback. I would have to agree with everything you note. Attendance, although a red flag, is not a deal breaker.

    We have one front end staff who is wonderful with patients and had a spotty attendance record and the reason why was that she was taking care of a mother in end stage cancer. We gave her a shot and it worked out well. After 4 months her mother passed on and she took about another 2 months to get everything taken care of (if you have ever settled an estate you know the paperwork is immense). The bonus is that she feels a great deal of personal loyalty to our organization and she has resisted several attempts to recruit her from our clinic by other doctors....
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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?
  • An Ge

    • +1
    Aug 10 2011: I fancy your idea and hope it will come true however, I am skeptical a wee.
    I am afraid if this "archaic system" is removed, there must be soon to be recreated some sort of grading system in order to sort out people anyway.
    I am gonna mention the society I am living in. the ministry of education has tried to gradually put diversified yardstick into the old grading system so students could be encouraged to do what their innate talent or interests are headed for not only what the society wants or expects them to do. Therefore teachers give grads with narrative feedback now. For me neither are objective though, it looks making effort to encourage students to learn themselves. But, However, If you look at deep inside, you will see it’s only another grading system, which is still competitive, I would say, rather harder than before. Students and their parents try to draw attention of teachers in order to get praises in comment paper. Narrative feedback is said not to go objective here. We cannot help admitting that teachers are human so they have preference in students. Maybe we need tricky grading system to correct teachers not students.
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      Aug 10 2011: An, I am not interested in sorting students, and I don't understand why people desire this.

      Year after year, I watch us parade students on Honor and Merit rolls in front of the remaining students, praising them, because they supposedly outperformed their peers. All this does is create a system of competition and hatred. Soon it's the "stupid" kids versus the "smart" kids. This doesn't encourage learning, and it creates a contentious school environment.

      The Results Only Learning Environment does away with all of this.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.
      • Aug 10 2011: Mark,

        I would go so far to agree that ROLE "can" do away with all of that. No system is perfect - look at american "democracy."

        As my daddy always said, everything works great until people get involved. That was a man who loved tools, possible because they never talked back or had another opinion or interpretation of how to do a job. On the other hand Dad wasn't exactly an easy guy to work next to...
      • An Ge

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        Aug 11 2011: @ Mark, Thank you for your comment

        I wish "the result only learning environment does away with all of this"
        This is way difficult job and would take righteous people and ages and money and social vibe.

        Rooting for you

        @ Jeffrey, anyway,Everything works great until people get involved truly!
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    Aug 9 2011: I attend an institution of higher learning that does not use grades, but instead, professors write narrative evaluations that look at academic progress from a individualized lens-- which eliminates a system of comparison, but also the comfort and stability of a "universal" standard upon which to weigh "progress." However, the idea is that a standard for weighing an objective loss/gain is nonexistent--rather, true learning (the kind that touches forever) is a personal, individual journey and a letter grade falls short of measuring and expressing that experience. For me, this makes it much harder to slip into the comfort of "skating along", and it makes it much easier to become immersed in the learning process, while not worrying about what the transcript will look like. I would also like to note that I got all A's at my public high school, and that my new educational environment provides so much more reward both intellectually and emotionally in that I feel a newfound sense of agency for the direction of my learning... While this method of learning is certainly not for everyone, I believe that not only are grades unnecessary, but they hinder the rich wellspring of individualized education from flowing in full force.
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        Aug 10 2011: What Rachel describes sounds a lot like Evergreen State College in Washington state, as well. Like you, I've heard mixed reviews over its success -- some saying it really challenged them to learn for learning's sake, and others saying it was easy to get by with little learning if you just got along with your professor. Even without grades as extrinsic motivation, there's still that degree waiting for you at the end to serve as an extrinsic motivator, prompting some students to "play the system" just to get the degree

        For some positive and negative feedback on the Evergreen experience, check out this page:
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      Aug 9 2011: Rachel, this is very intriguing. I'd be interested to know the institution you attend.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
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    Aug 9 2011: Teachers are requested to test and appraise their students' "knowledge" by accepting only the "right" answers that are based on what students have to memorized as some limited ready-to-go conventional data.

    That is why in schools, training is commonly mistaken for real productive learning. It is scary.
    Most of the students can, somehow, adjust, learning mainly one thing - do as others do, remember what you are told, whether you like or not.

    There is no space for a unique growing talent in schools. I do not mean on a level of a quick businessman, such as B. Gates, but I mean on a level of an extraordinary intuition, whether it is artistic, or scientific, or even in the field that is still unknown to us. There is no way that a student with a such talent can be fairly "appraised" in schools.

    Our human world that is controlled by mass production, "pop-culture",
    and mass psychosis is desperate to let new intellect and talent grow. They are to revise our standards. I trust that real Teaching is all about Learning along with students!
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    • Aug 8 2011: Glipona
      I agree whole heartedly. Thank you for your comment. As Mark has stated it is the system, not just grading that needs fixing. The other things unfortunately cannot be fixed so easily.
      • Aug 10 2011: "It is not the people who are your enemy, it is the system" - Miyamoto Musashi, ronin
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        • Aug 10 2011: Sarcasm alert

          Absolutely not. The decisions of what to teach and how much to spend should only be put in the hands of corporations. Only they have the business acumen. Only they have successfully navigated life and never made mistakes. Only they have crashed a world economy.... oh, wait.
  • Aug 8 2011: If we remove grades and bring in other parameters of judging performance, it's not going to help. Grades are here for a reason and they have been doing their job of communicating the strengths & weaknesses of an individual.

    What I feel is what should go is not the grades, but the overemphasis on them and using them as the only basis for judging performance. I would totally support a regime where grades are given along with detailed narratives of strengths & weaknesses and feedback as to how the student can build upon them.

    We need to end the mindset of grades being the single most important factor of performance evaluation and instead focus & reward those students who display the most improvement in developing themselves!
  • Aug 8 2011: Reform happens often. Meaningful reform almost never comes from the top.
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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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    Aug 7 2011: If you were to eliminate grades from say a high school class, then wouldn't that make a college have to base their acceptance more-so on standardized testing? Wouldn't the whole application process have to be rearranged?
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      Aug 7 2011: Max, the last thing I want is more emphasis on standardized testing. In fact, I'd like testing eliminated along with grades.

      If we replace grades with narrative feedback, the college acceptance system would have to change. Recruiters would have to read a lot of written evaluation of each student. College deans would have to work harder, but students would then be accepted for who they are, rather than some number that hardly represents them at all.

      Thanks for the question.
      • Aug 7 2011: One thing that I see on this topic very clearly is that there seems to be valid points for both systems. I see the negativity that is placed in the "grading" system, however what does work about this program is it is able to define very clearly where a students interest lies. We have varying disciplines and we grade for performance within disciplines. It identifies what that particular student is both interested in and has the cognitive and creative ability to understand. The problem is not with the system used, I think, but the manner in which it is applied by teachers and parents. Earlier in the thread was the conversation of a mother regarding accepting A's from one child and B's from another child. A childs particular motivation will affect his performance in a given area. Is he capable of achieving an A? Perhaps. Does he have the interest in achieving an A? Perhaps not. This does not mean he is not performing well, rather it displays where his cumulative strengths lie. Rather than being penalized for the B or C, the educational system and parents should realize that this is merely just another indicator of who that student/child is as an individual.
        I think we need some system of measurement but only to be used as information with which to help students realize their potential, and to find success for their future as adults. Society has placed too high a value on certain professions rather than identifying and teaching the true menaing of the word "success". And success is as individual as we all are. For a learning disabled student to find the ability to be able to care for themselves in their day to day living as adults is as great a measure of success as the mensa student who goes to the top of his chosen profession.
        As humanity, we will always "measure" in various ways. Its how we are able to percieve and define ourselves in relation to the world in which we live.
  • Aug 6 2011: The use of grades serves a number of important purposes, all of which can be attended by other tools in new school contexts oriented to invigorated goals. Building upon Sir Ken Robinson's well argued points for the long overdue transformation of education (why doesn't he use the term oppression?), eliminating grades would be one task involved in changing the conversations within education: conversations that connect stakeholders to each other and to the new visions of transformed education systems. As in all things, feedback is the crucial link for balancing autonomy and inclusion. Students will always need feedback to know, and value, where they stand in school communities. Replacing grades with feedback strategies consciously developed to broaden the basis of student inclusion beyond standardized measures can only enhance student engagement and everyone's capacities to thrive. Data drawn from strategies like project based learning and professional leaning communities (when well done) illustrate that motivationally meaningful feedback sans the imposition grades is a powerful means of engaging all students.
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      Aug 6 2011: Ken, I believe you are against grades, but I'm not entirely certain.
      • Aug 6 2011: Hi Mark- My concern is less with grades per se, albeit I agree that the tool set is antiquated and damaging along with all the standardizations in place. More largely, I am concerned with the bigger picture of our education system functioning as a system of oppression for students and educators. To eliminate grades will only be seen as an improvement when done in sequence with an aggregate of change strategies.
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          Aug 7 2011: You're right, Ken. I'm hoping to see Results Only Learning Environments everywhere. This is the system that I believe will change everything.

          Thanks for weighing in on this.
    • Aug 7 2011: 'Oppression,' eh?

      You just referred to a liberal arts education as... oppression? As opposed to the freedom of... ignorance?
      Between this and Mark's assertion - "I don't need facts or evidence" - I do not know which is funnier. Both are equally disturbing yet amusing.

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      • Aug 8 2011: Seth, have you listened to Sir Ken's talk? He lays out a cogent argument for a major shift in the way we educate.

        And he is not the first to propose similar ideas. Rudolf Steiner had the same ideas almost a 100 years ago. Waldorf schools are based on Steiner's ideas.

        I am pretty sure that Ken was not critiquing liberal arts education, which is, by the way, an endangered species in the USA, largely as an effect of the very positions you espouse up-thread.
  • Aug 5 2011: As social beings our life depends on ranking. Is it parents to children, teacher to pupils or workers to bosses. Other than most animals humans can live in several rankings at the same time. Family ranking other than ranking at work other than ranking in the choir. So that the true meaning of ranking is not that visible to us. To use grades is an external ranking system based on values that ensure stability in the society. In most cases these ranking values are taken over by the group of pupils themselves. If grades are taken away the ranking under the pupils might change to other values e.g. the most brutal is the most valued in the group.
  • Aug 5 2011: I favor elimination of grades in schools. We should go to school for education and not for grades in memorizing theories or the contents of books & become a walking dictionary, so to speak. Education should include education on conscious living and the art of living to make the world a more beautiful place to live in. :)
  • Aug 4 2011: Mark,
    I am afraid that removing the grading process from the classroom would be much like removing prices from the market - there is simply no other way to objectively and effectively compare objects (either a product or student) without a baseline. Granted, some teachers undermine the grading system with weighted grades and by subjectively changing grades based on their own whims, as another commenter alluded to. However, we do not protect ourselves against con-artists by re-inventing the market, and you should not attempt to re-invent the education system simply because some teachers cannot live up to the professional responsibility granted to them.
    There is another fallacy being propagated on this thread that I want to address and that is this seemingly inherent assumption that education/learning only occurs at school, and thus schools ought to pursue the most eclectic system which allows for the most broad-ranged theories of learning. This is not the case. A person learns at home, then home and school, then home and school and market, and then home and market. School is only a small part of the education process. Mark, I believe your ROLE system would work fantastic in one-on-one situations - that is actually why parents have been using it for centuries. But it can not work when a single teacher is responsible for twenty students. It is not efficient.
    Moreover, I believe those who wish to eliminate the competition of the grading system are failing to recognize one of the essential qualities of school - which is to prepare students for the market. Removing competition from the mind of an eight-year-old may indeed give him a more pleasant childhood, but it will retard his ability to adapt to ever-changing market conditions in adulthood, since these changes are manifested in Profits & Losses. On the whole, I see NO REASON for adapting Mark's ROLE system to our schools and believe it's affects would be detrimental.

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      Aug 5 2011: Seth, you begin by arguing against the ROLE when you bring up comparing. I'm not interested in comparing students or schools, when it comes to learning. This is one of the biggest problems in education. Even U.S. leaders say we must "compete," which I've never understood. Why should anyone have to be a better learner than someone else. Why should an American be better than a European, or vice-versa, when it comes to learning?

      In the second part of your post, you seem to be right on track with the ROLE, even though you suggest it's faulty. In results-only learning, students are encouraged to learn anywhere and everywhere -- at school, home and wherever they may be. They are given freedom to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes. A thirst for learning is created.

      It can definitely work with 20 or more students. I've done it successfully. My students complete all activities and projects, go above and beyond what I ask, because they have a drive to learn like their peers in traditional classes do not have.

      As an added "kicker," they outperform other students on standardized tests, even though I don't think these are at all important. Administrators like it though.
      • Aug 5 2011: A letter grade derived from a predetermined and equally applied scoring criteria is absolutely objective. If you have anything to challenge the validity of that statement other than "I don't know which dictionary you use...,' I would like to hear it. As I said before, some teachers may abuse the system but the reason behind introducing scoring criteria and letter grades was objectivity. You undermine that notion when you replace the system with one based on individual teacher and individual student interaction because the dynamic is inherently related to the time, place, circumstance, etc. of the dialogue and the personalities, temperament, interests, etc. of the individual participants.

        Moving on - "I have no interest in comparing students or schools." Yet you seem deeply passionate about comparing learning systems. Alas, if only we had a predetermined scoring criteria to make clear which is better! "This is one of the biggest problems in education." So we come to the crux of the debate. You do not like competition. Therefore you shun any mechanism which illustrates winners and losers in a given competition. Mark, competition is what humans use to become more efficient and thus better themselves. Arguing to eliminate it is, in my opinion, nonsensical nihilism.

        Further, I am seeing this meme: grades v. narrative feedback. As if someone's grades are not a form of narrative feedback? We are discussing mentally functional children, yes? Assuming we have two competent human beings in the teacher and student, the grading system offers a much more efficient way of communicating data than a long-winded, ebb and flow type 'narrative,' that perhaps may (not) enhance the education process in the short term, but will ultimately and assuredly absolve all responsibility within it in the long-term.

        • Aug 5 2011: Shaken
          Let me say that I do believe that grading can be done in a better way than it is now. The point is that there is no real objectivity now. The fact that something is given as a number does not make it objective, just numerical. Everyone has at the end of the day, a subjective grading scale. I believe the kind of reflection with each student and for each student that Mark desires is a very good thing. I do believe a matrix of cognitive and affective learning outcomes can be drawn up to evaluate. I feel that some sort of numerical or sliding scale "grade" may have to be assigned until our system is drastically changed, and that is what I would wish for.
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          Aug 6 2011: Seth, I wonder if you have been in a classroom that uses detailed meaningful narrative feedback over grades. I'm not sure where you get the idea that grades are more efficient than feedback and that feedback is a "long-winded ebb and flow," if you haven't experienced the system.

          As an 18-year classroom teacher, I have seen how students fall into a cycle of one D or F after another, never escaping. They come to believe they are failures, so they lose interest in learning. Students in a Results Only Learning Environment quickly come to love learning, as they are not punished by the endless sea of D's and F's. They look forward to narrative feedback, as they see it as an objective evaluation of what they either have or have not mastered.

          I'm not attempting to say that narrative feedback by itself is complete education reform; rather, it is part of a system that can completely reform education and make all students become efficient learners.

          I welcome all comments, but unless you've experienced both a grades only system and a narrative feedback system, I don't think it's possible to completely rule out one over the other.
        • Aug 8 2011: Shaken
          I don't think it has to be totally individualistic. Remember I said I agree in part with Mark. I think he is signaling a real problem when it comes to assessment. Accountability can come in many different forms, not just through number scores and who gets the highest number score. Teachers should be accountable. I am just not sure that a state wide standardized test is the best way to do that. Grading is important I am not denying that Shaken. I like that Mark is asking the questions about how we do that grading. But I also feel the larger picture of how we teach and what we are "teaching to" is an issue.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth - how is it objective to assign a grade using criteria for any humanities or arts subjects? Without losing the essence of the art, it cannot be done. All grading, yes, even math, is subjective in some way. The very act of deciding how to weight certain parts of exercises or subjects with different weights is a subjective exercise.

          Back when I took school and the dinosaurs roamed the earth with Jeebus, we were assigned a raw percentage grade. No letter grades were assigned as an interpretation of that percentage. What was assigned was a minimum percentage to pass a class.

          In one of my math classes, we had a teacher who came close to failing me because I was too intuitive regarding the subject matter. I was also a snotty pain in the ass. He would assign 200 or 300 questions on the same mathematical theorem per night. I never did them. I did however do enough to understand the underlying premise of the theorem until I could synthesize and generalize the information. I scored very high on all exams, which is why I passed, but if it had been up to that teacher I would have failed because he scored "objectively". But his scoring system was weighted to doing meaningless (from my point of view) busy work and not mastery of the material.

          Final point: people are not products. Equating them doesn't make them so and designing any system that has that premise as one of it's underlying assumptions means that the system will fail to achieve it's aim, namely to serve those individuals ... that is unless of course that you feel that serving people isn't the aim of education, n'est pas?
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        Aug 6 2011: Mark, I have run into the same thing teaching Emotional Intelligence and service-learning in the classroom. You are asked to prove that it works using standardized testing. I have been lucky enough to work in schools where these elements of the classroom are valued regardless of the outcomes of these tests (and generally students do better than the norm anyway). Crazy, yes?
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          Aug 6 2011: Susan, thanks for a thoughtful post that remains on point.
      • Aug 8 2011: One last thing - A teacher's ability to manipulate test scores would persist in the ROLE system If a teacher is willing to cheat the system under a grading rubric, he is more than likely to do so under the ROLE system. The biggest difference is that, with a rubric, the teacher can be held accountable if found guilty. In the ROLE system, there is no oversight and therefore no responsibility other than that imposed by the teacher on himself. What would stop a teacher from simply denying a student's progress, or defining it in a way that was simply indoctrination? Only his own ethics. As the old saying goes, 'trust but verify' - and we do so through predetermined, objectively applied scoring rubrics, which reflect both the knowledge of the student and the fairness of the teacher.

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          Aug 8 2011: Seth, I'm not sure how we turned to cheating the system. I suppose you could cheat under any system. I like to think that teachers are trying to help students, not cheat them.

          Rubrics, in most cases, are even more subjective than grades.

          As I've said many times in this debate, narrative feedback is completely objective, when used properly. It outlines which learning outcomes were mastered and which were not. There's no subterfuge here, I promise.
        • Aug 9 2011: Mark, you say that "rubrics, in most cases, are even more subjective than grades." I really have to respectfully disagree. A letter grade has no accountability attached to it... this paper is a "B," you had 10 wrong on the math test so you get a "C". Rubrics on the other hand, at the very least, have some type of justification built into it about why the assessment was graded the way it was.
    • Aug 5 2011: Seth
      I have to jump in here on your comment. Grades are not objective in any sense. In a post below I stated a fact. I can write a test everyone can pass and one that everyone can fail. Is that in any sense objective? I worked hard making tests that truly measured learning outcomes I had set out. It would be a great grand wonderful world if everyone did that. But frankly and honestly speaking it isn't how it works.

      Who makes the criteria? The department at the school? An "expert"? The principal? God forbid the legislature. The teacher has to establish the criteria. It is not objective in any real sense even the one used by Shaken.

      I believe that scoring can have a place to help students. We discussed below also maybe a way a matrix to score students on cognitive and affective domain questions. We need some better ways. I still believe that a transformation of the system is what is needed.

      One other thing: Education, not just schooling, is not to prepare students for the workplace. It is to prepare students for life. Life, understanding, knowledge, is bigger and broader than "getting a job." Yes, the economic part of education is there, but that is not the reason we send children to schools. When we really change that mentality, we will have changed the system.
      • Aug 5 2011: "I can create a test where everyone can pass, and a test that everyone cane fail. What is objective about that?" Well, absolutely nothing. Go back and re-read where I qualified the statement with 'being derived from a PREDETERMINED and EQUALLY APPLIED scoring criteria.'

        "One other thing: Education, not just schooling, is not to prepare students for the workplace. It is to prepare students for life. Life, understanding, knowledge is bigger and broader that getting a job....When we really change that mentality, we will have changed the system." You will have also destroyed our country. Every aspect of one's maturation ought to be geared towards becoming a functional, contributing member of society and this nation. The world is not a village. It is separated into and governed by several economic, political units. We need ours to be the strongest. Therefore, we train our citizens with certain skills through our education system. Idiocy such as yours is actually a luxury provided to you by the enormous economic output of this country. We reached this level of opulence because at one time we had educators who understood that SCHOOL is preparation for the MARKET.

        Once again, I feel as though we are debating an approach best suited for LITERATURE classes (if any classes) and yet you are trying to encompass all subjects with this new teaching system. Since Mark declined to do so, I will list subjects in the order of their importance: 1. History 2. Math 3. Sciences (including economics) and finally 4. Literature. I will take someone who can write an algorithm over someone who can quote Shakespeare every day of the week. (And so will employers)

        • Aug 5 2011: Gee whiz.

          No I saw your qualifier, however you did not respond to my "Who makes the criteria" question. See there's the rub (to quote Shakespeare). The point I was making Seth is that testing and therefore your "objective criteria" are not actually objective at all. They are all subject to someone's criteria.

          I am not an idiot or speak out of idiocy, but a lot of experience in teaching. How about you?

          No, education as I describe would not destroy the country actually. It is more attuned to the educational systems of the past not the economics and getting job type of today. By the way, that sort of education is what built our country. Funny huh?

          Thank you for placing History first on your list. As an advanced degree holder in History I appreciate it.

          The MARKET is not life, but only a part of it.

          Did you not like Literature classes?
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          Aug 6 2011: I was onside with you Seth up until the line: "I will list subjects in the order of their importance: 1. History 2. Math 3. Sciences (including economics) and finally 4. Literature."

          Speaking as an algorithmic-minded person (and as a business owner), employers will not "take someone who can write an algorithm" over someone who can write sales copy or interact with others in person and on the phone to close a deal - not if they know what is good for the bottom line. And while it is not taught in schools per se, it is much closer to the literature path than the mathematics/sciences track. (And I really can't imagine why you ranked history above either.)
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          Aug 6 2011: Seth, I won't argue the importance of subjects. All I know is you have to be able to read to get any job. Again, if you understand results only learning, you would see that it works for all learning.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth, you paint a very frightening picture of what you think our educational system should be. The objective of our educational system should be to produce functioning citizens to serve our nation? That sounds a little authoritarian and creepy to me.
          Education is supposed to unsettle intellects, make people THINK. If everyone came out of schooling with the belief that their sole function was to serve our economy, there wouldn't be anyone who could lead, have vision, and work towards improving society. We need people questioning why we have a nation that is tied to an economy, and why there is such a push for ours to be the greatest by our leaders.

          For someone who ranks History as the most important subject, you seem to show a lack of weariness of power and methods of social control.
      • Aug 5 2011: Oh, where to start -

        I ignored your question because it is impertinent. It does not matter who comes up with the rubric. If it is predetermined and equally applied to all test-takers it is an 'objective measure.'

        "No, education as I describe would not destroy the country actually. It is more attuned to the educational systems of the past not the economics and getting job type of today. By the way, that sort of education is what built our country. Funny huh?" Incredibly funny. Especially considering that my grandmother (71) was offered trade school classes in high school, as was my great-grandmother (would be 101) and my other great-grandmother (would be 99) did not attend school at all. Exactly what point in our history are you referring to?

        "The MARKET is not life, it is only a part of it." I agree. I think it is a very important part of it, though, and thus want to see children trained to succeed in it. The best way to do this is to introduce them to the concept of competition early and by using objective indicators (letter grades or what have you) for them to see how they stand or if they need improvement. You seem to think that it is LIFE itself that students need preparing for. Maybe so, but that is the occupation of parents, not teachers. As a teacher, your only job is to have an extensive knowledge of your subject matter and a prism through which you present this data to your students. The learning is their responsibility. Their cultivation is their parent's responsibility. The phrase 'separation of powers' might ring a bell for an advanced degree holder in history. Maybe you could study the concept again and then try to apply it to societal relations at large. In my opinion, you missed the 'learning outcome,' to the far left.

        Narrative feedback.

        • Aug 5 2011: No, not quite impertinent. You see the person who makes the criteria chooses from a world of information about any one topic. So therefore it is not everything about the topic just what the person who wrote the objectives thinks is important about that topic. So calling it objective on one hand might be easy, but on the other it just isn't. Yes, there are ideas, concepts, and maths that people should learn. But they are learning those not in order to get a grade, but in order to yes, live. Education is about life.

          Sorry, but your argument about who received education has nothing to do with what kind of education they may or may not have received. But then again, that is logical.

          Separation of powers as defined in the US Constitution, as I assume rightly or wrongly you are referring to, has absolutely nothing to do with who educates children. I would like to know who the teacher was that said it had to do with that. And I am not sure the framers of the Constitution had quite that thing in mind. It seems you confuse things. By the way I have "studied the concept".

          I love being accused of being "leftist". It made my day. Che lives!

          This topic is about grading and there have been some excellent comments made to the point. While not agreeing completely with Mark, he may be on to something very good.
      • Aug 7 2011: Gisela, if we were on the same track 90% of the way, I am sure we can clarify our differences and hopefully find common ground.

        I never tried to say an employer would look to someone who can SOLELY write an algorithm. I said that being able to do so (because it is a skill) is more desirable by employers than quoting Shakespeare. Could you elaborate a little further as to how writing a sales copy is akin to Literature? Because they both employ the English language? Or how being able to 'close a deal' is akin to Literature? Because authors, too, can be persuasive? I just don't see how literary analysis would help you with either. (L-Analysis is what is implied in Literature. Grammar is the class which teaches you the ins and outs of the language, and may be what you were actually referring to. I would lump grammar in with history, if restricted to the four categories. See below)

        I listed History first because it is inevitably the first subject a child is introduced to, and because it is what gives one perspective throughout life. A child (and I mean a real child, less than 3 years old, not these 15-year-olds who apparently need Mark and Mike cultivating them for Life), does not understand his present situation, or what is to come, because he lacks a frame of reference. History (and I mean the word in a wider sense than what was between the binding of your American History textbook) provides him with one, i.e. the history of his family, his community, certain institutions he will participate in. Before a child ever learns addition, he possesses a world-view derived from the historical facts he has been presented. Don't misunderstand me - I am not saying that the other subjects are unimportant, just that, in the meta-sense, History is the MOST important. However, this is only my opinion. I am interested what subject you feel is most important and why. I am also interested in how you feel, as a business owner, about our credit downgrade.

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          Aug 7 2011: Good sales techniques (both as copy and in person) involves being able to relate to the other person, to see the value of what is being sold as it relates to them, and to communicate the relevance to their needs. This is typically the domain of the humanities, not maths. (And as for grammar: all the sentence structure in the universe means nothing in the world of selling when compared to emotional import.)

          And I would not say it is a matter of picking one over the other - they are both needed, usually found in different individuals. You can't have crap product and a great sales team for long, nor can you have the best product with no one to sell it.

          It is folly to think one is better than the other.
      • Aug 8 2011: Justin -
        An individual citizen feeling obligated to serve his nation is 'authoritarian'? I was under the impression that authoritarianism was a top-down, command-style society.

        In reality, it is your side that is seeking to make the education system authoritarian - you are making it an instrument of the teacher, rather than an instrument of the student to be used to better himself. You are not viewing the student as a free citizen, he is a member of the teacher's flock to be led and cultivated. Have you not realized that the entire purpose of this system is to keep the student from failing? That's the whole point. Students cannot be allowed to fail. That is a lack of freedom, and a true authoritarian mindset - particularly when the passing/failing is determined through by the 'leader of the flock' alone, the teacher. Somehow, your side is espousing to have teachers eschew all oversight, rob students of a concrete determination of their own success and I am the one called 'authoritarian.'

        Just curious - Is anyone going to try to respond to my claim that removing grades from the classroom would be like removing prices from the market? Or are we going to ignore that like we did during the Economic Calculation Debate? Even if you can prove that your critique of the traditional system is valid (it isn't), you still have to construct a mechanism which allows the teacher to communicate the improvement of the student to someone else (whether his next teacher, an employer, parents, the student himself, etc.) and without grades or rubrics, you do not have one. Or should I say, you do not have an efficient enough one to replace grades or rubrics. You may feel that they are flawed, but they are the best option that we have. That is why we use them.


        *This thread is similar to the ROLE system. Mark has an awful idea, but isn't allowed to be told so. We must coddle and cultivate, and look for positive points of emphasis. This is not a debate.
      • Aug 9 2011: Glipona - So.... How are you going to communicate a student's success? Or failure? Once again, you did not respond to the question, you simply criticized the analogy. Even if you do not like the fact that we need a mechanism to communicate the quality of the student, we still need one. And I am still waiting to hear someone propose an efficient one. You guys can pat yourselves on the back for being CRITICS all you want (of my analogy, of the education system, of the capitalist societal construct, etc.). But a valid critique does not validate an alternative. I am going to make this to where you cannot obfuscate the point -

        What alternative mechanism to the grading system do you propose that we use to compare/contrast student performance, as well as communicate to third parties (other teachers, universities, parents, principals, etc.) the overall knowledge of the student? How will you chart progress?

        And, how do you recommend we maintain teacher oversight under the ROLE system?

        Mark - we got onto the subject of cheating the system because it is one proponent of your argument in favor of the ROLE system. You have said repeatedly that under the grading system a teacher can manipulate test grades - I am simply pointing out that you could continue to do so under the ROLE system, and so the ROLE system does not alleviate that problem.

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        • Aug 10 2011: Seth I have no idea why you are so angry. We are trying to discuss a real problem and find some real solutions. You say you have one, fine, I disagree with you. Education is about so much more than you make it out to be. And yes Seth, educating all of our society, even the low-end as you call them, is a responsibility of our society as a whole. Educational reform is important. People are important. Real people with real problems and real learning needs.

          I do think Mark is asking some great questions, offering some solutions, and calling on people to respond.
      • Aug 11 2011: Glip - My 'tantrum' was inappropriate. I have a temper and I am still young enough to value honesty - when I am pissed off, I am going to sound pissed off. This obviously wasn't the place for it, though, and similar to my level-headed analysis earlier in the thread, it was ignored for the ideas it contained.

        For the majority of my life, I have been in the classroom. IMO, it is the teachers themselves that have created the crisis in our education system, not the infrastructure of the system. The teachers are the problem because they are willing to assist the 'real people with real problems and real learning needs' at the expense of those of us who need no such assistance. This slows down the learning process. It stunts the development of those of us who can process information quickly and are mature enough to deal with criticism without letting it 'define us' as a 'D of F student'. In attempting to HELP, you are HURTING. Although you stress meeting the 'needs' of your students, you are incredibly insensitive to the needs of students who simply need you to TEACH THE COURSE rather than CULTIVATE THE STUDENT. In other words, you FAIL to meet the expectations that an intelligent young man might have of the education system.
        I am also frustrated because of how WORTHLESS many teachers have become. Mike cannot even form a grammatically-correct sentence in the majority of his posts, yet he is a teacher. Mark apparently still possesses a pre-adolescent physiology, or has at least stunted his masculine impulse to compete, yet he wants to cultivate students into MEN? How could he? And you? Talking with you is unnerving. How do you not realize that a 'criterion-referenced checklist' IS a RUBRIC? Yet you are an educator. It's all a cruel joke.
        Yes, my opinions are REACTIONARY. They are a REACTION from dealing with TEACHERS LIKE YOU for the last seventeen years. And, really, it's anger stemming from a profound sense of DISAPPOINTMENT. . .
      • Aug 11 2011: Glip - I am pretty sure that your 'though you are clearly very smart intellectually' comment was a snide remark, but i am going to treat it as thought is is not.

        First, being 'smart intellectually' is not antithetical to being 'emotionally charged.' Therefore the 'though' that qualifies the statement is unnecessary and might lead the casual reader to incorrectly assume the two are opposing characteristics. If you (were still able to) look more closely at my 'tantrum' you will see there are several intellectual points made, which I have now clarified in a follow-up post. The flight of high-performance students from the public education system will be a trend that affects your profession in the coming five to fifteen years.

        Secondly, Thank you for the (I assume) compliment.. But keep in mind that I am not at my full potential. I would have progressed much further as both a student and professional had I had teachers who did not employ the techniques you are promoting, and that I am criticizing. Once again, if you were to differentiate between sets of students, and utilize the ROLE system for the under-achievers, while maintaining a traditional system for over-achievers, maybe it would work. But there will be a tragedy of unfulfilled potential on the higher end of the learning curve if your system is implemented for the student body, at large.

      • Aug 12 2011: Glip - The edit button, good idea. New to internet forums but I will catch on.

        I have been arguing in favor of rubrics. Especially when they are complemented with a numerical calculation of completion and a letter grade to act as a summary of the success/failure of the work. I have never said they are not useful tools. I do think that they lose their effectiveness and their efficiency when done without the numerical calculation and letter grade. You seem to think that a rubric is fine, and even a letter grade is fine, but only at the end of the learning program. I think that a numerical calculation and letter grades help during the learning program, because i think that students are more than capable of discerning the information in regards to the rubric and are able to identify their mistakes and fix them, IF they are dedicated to doing so.

        Socrates did not like competition? He was constantly trying to out-smart his contemporaries. Hell, he even tried to publicly embarrass many of his opponents. He was not an educator - he was a showman. Moreover, Socrates lived in an aristocratic society where even the most able was defined by his social class. Thank goodness we don't operate under such a system! Now, if suitably skilled, an individual has the ability to work himself up in social rank - by outperforming his contemporaries. This is a fact of life that needs to be incorporated into your teaching system, and actually seems to indicate that it is my position which is more in the tradition of Socrates, who was himself most concerned with - outperforming his contemporaries. Anyone who sees in Socrates a pure drive for knowledge certainly does not have the best of eyes - and is also selectively applying the 'interesting things' which psychoanalysis advocates. How quickly would Socrates have condemned his ideas had they been what was at stake! What he could not forsake was his - role. Socrates, always the hero of the Tragedy of Socrates. . .
      • Aug 12 2011: Did you really think you had found a dispassionate, cold and calculating drive for knowledge in antiquity? When they worshiped gods that were simple extensions of their own emotions? Theirs was a culture of the theater, not the classroom. Projection, projection, projection. . .

        A cold 'drive for knowledge'? You really have to wait until the Middle Ages to find yourself an example of that, and even then it is questionable.

        The world is quickly becoming split between Freudians and Nietzscheans - one with a justification for weakness, the other with a justification for strength. Is it any wonder each of us has pet theories to discredit the other? "Oh, you want to dominate? Sign of emotional weakness." "Oh, you wish not to compete? Sign of spiritual decadence." This can go both ways.

        You have said that competition (the market) should not serve as a model for the education system. You have also shunned 'fixed hierarchies,' so I am presuming you are not wishing to model the education system after the family. Does your model of the education system possess a counter-part outside of the classroom? Or are we creating an 'island' of existence - isolated from societal relations at large?

        I am interested by what process you allow local businessmen to review your learning programs. Are these people you simply happen to know from the business community, or is there a mechanism which allows business people and teachers to collude (or simply review) the programs presented at local schools? And from what industries are these business leaders?

      • Aug 12 2011: Glip - I have never had a teacher simply look at a paper and write an 'A' on it, without any mention of what was being graded, why it was being graded so, the points of emphasis, etc. This is a phenomenon which you and Mark both refer to, but that I have never experienced. If teachers do that, then the way in which they are grading needs to be changed (to implement predetermined and objectively applied scoring rubrics, as I have repeatedly stated), not the process of assigning letter grades altogether. Certainly your district does not allow teachers to run roughshod over a student's work without any reference as to why one received the grade one did. Or does it?

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      Aug 5 2011: Seth, what I have to validate my assertions about grades and competition is decades of experience. What you may not know is I've taught both ways - in the traditional, grade world and the results only, feedback world. I don't need definitions or research. I have seen the results.

      We will never agree about competition. I am human and I am not driven by competition. I'm driven by the satisfaction of helping students develop a thirst for learning and by working to change our broken education system.

      Hope you'll keep an open mind. Thanks.
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        • Aug 7 2011: There is no question that eliminating competition in the education system is both unlikely and probably unwise. But I see no reason that more deeply involved teachers who emphasize "learning for life" or "learning for the sake of learning" or whatever would put students at a disadvantage in any kind of market. Students who develop the drive and self-motivation to pursue an interest beyond the bare minimum seem to perform better than those who seek only high grades.

          I think that such a "separation of powers" would be unwise as more involved teachers can help make up for poor parenting (just as good parenting can help to mitigate poor teaching). An overlap of such duties in this case might seem inefficient but could serve as a social safety net for some communities.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth,

          A few salient points.

          First - no scoring system is inherently objective. The process of choosing what to grade and how much to weight those grades is subjective.

          Second, while schools used to feature vocational education, it meant something very different that what you think it does. My dad was educated then and was pulled out of school to work on the family farm by the 8th grade. He retired with 600 firefighters under his command and can do complex differential hydraulic calculations in his head. He understands latin. And he can do all of this because it was taught to him by teachers who only tested once or twice a year. And the reason that the schools back then did vocational education was because they were preparing students for life, NOT THE MARKET. You seem to have a mystical understanding and almost magical connection to the market - you might want to examine why. I would suggest "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle " by Chris Hedges as a good starting point. Then you could work your way through the references. Just sayin.

          3rd: Although his grammar may be atrocious at times, at least he is not deliberately dismissive of others and situations he has no knowledge of. You made this personal -- "MayB you no understand me cuz i dont talk like ur dum studentz" -- and that was unprofessional, uncalled for, and despicable. You sir, are flying your cad flag.
  • Aug 4 2011: I agree that a letter grade is not a indicator of learning. Talk to any college admissions team and you will find an overwhelming number of frustrations about grade inflation. The way many teachers assign letter grades are fraught with flaws... "points" taken off for homework not turned in, a letter grade lost because the paper was a day late, extra-credit for raising your hand and being responsible. What does any of this have to do with a student's understanding of the material? There are much better ways to motivate students, and more importantly increase learning, than assigning a letter grade.
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      Aug 6 2011: Peter, I appreciate this detailed, thoughtful response. We need to continue debates like this in the public eye and certainly in education, in order to create change.

      Thanks for chiming in.
  • Aug 4 2011: Changing the educational system would change everything. and coming from someone who's living the current educational system, i think that's a good idea.
  • Aug 4 2011: "Grades are subjective crutches", well, I think such arbitary conclusion may lead to gruevous misjudgments. Obviously, we are studying for purchasing knowledge, not for the "grade", but it is hardly appropriate to say that grade should be eliminated. Without grade, how can you judge which student to choose if you are a teacher in the university?
    Grade are not equal knowledge, but in some way it does reflect how much knowledge does students get.
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      Aug 4 2011: Sorry Yiran, I can't agree at all. Grades are subjective and they say nothing about knowledge. If I were a college instructor, I'd be embarassed to evaluate learning with a simple letter. I you work on a project for a month and pour your heart into it and work countless hours, only to have me look at it and say you get a grade of C, how would you feel? Have I judged you fairly? What right do I have to judge learning at all?

      Good teachers assess, and this is an ongoing process that includes observation and two-way feedback. I explain what learning outcomes have been mastered and point out those that have not. Then, I give students a chance to return to the work and master them.

      This is what fans intrinsic motivation and makes students want to learn. If I throw letters at them, they only feel like I don't care, and they lose interest.

      Thanks for your comment.
  • Aug 4 2011: There are many students to whom an A or an F will never mean anything, but the point of using a grade system is not only in order to give feedback. If grades were removed entirely, objectivity would disappear. The main idea behind grades is to create an objective assesment for a student's work. A grade with no commentary is of no use, but we should head towards a system where teachers understand the grading system well and the abilities of people from different environments can be compared somewhar objectively, while narrative feedback should be included to enhance a student's future performance.
    In my geography calss our substitute teacher gave us back our homework without a grade, saying that if a grade is included the students just look at the grade and don't bother reading the comments. The feedback he wrote was helpful, but I remained puzzled, not knowing if I got a 9.5 and needed to improve to get a 10, or if I got a 5.5 and needed an extra half mark to pass.
    Giving grades can create positive and negative feedbacks from the students. In my first philosophy essay I got a 9, and encouraged by my success I eventually went to uni to study philosophy among other things. Many of my friends had similar experiences.
    Your assumption that a student learns nothing from a grade is true for a number of cases, but your first error was to generalize this assumption. Secondly, you can't accuse grades of being subjective, they'll always be more objective than words. Most importantly, you fail to realize that grades have multiple purposes, not just to asses a student's individual performance.
    I agree with your premise that narrative feedback is better as a perfomance improver, but that doesn;t imply grades need to be eliminated.
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      Aug 4 2011: What right does a teacher have to "give" you a 5.5 or a 9.5?

      Let's put your assertion about grades being objective to this test:

      You work for 100 hours on a project with multiple parts and many learning outcomes. You turn in your work, and I say it's a B. This means "good," right?

      Or, I can say, "It is clear that you have put in many hours on this project. You have correctly integrated at least 5 web-based tools, as instructed. Your narrative demonstrates understanding of the conflict of three stories and how they were resolved, and you successfully connected them to three other stories. My only problem with your project is that your narrative and your web-based tools indicate little understanding of point of view, which was one of the learnng outcomes. Please return to the project and add either an audio or video tool that answers the question on point of view."

      So, which is more objective, the B or my specific, detailed feedback?
      • Aug 4 2011: Good points. I think he was alluding to the danger of nepotism and favoritism making it's way back into the classroom.
      • Aug 4 2011: Ummm...if the 'B' is derived from a predetermined scoring criteria then it is by definition objective, whereas your personal analysis of the work is by definition subjective.

        Ignoring that, can you provide an example of how the ROLE system would be employed when teaching MATH, SCIENCE, or HISTORY, as opposed to interpretive literature?

        And, just curious, in what order would list math, science, history and literature in terms of importance to a student's education?
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          Aug 5 2011: Seth, you make good points and ask an interesting question. I don't think I can prioritize subjects. I do believe that reading is the most important thing anyone can do to acquire the necessary skills for all subjects. Having said that, it's up to the learner to decide what is most important to him or her.

          The ROLE works the same way in all subjects. Students learn in a collaborative setting, completing projects, in which they choose many of the methods for demonstrating mastery of learning outcomes. Grades, in all cases, are replaced or augmented with detailed narrative feedback.

          I'm not sure what dictionary you're using, but there is no definition I can think of that makes a letter an objective method for evaluating performance.

          Thanks for keeping the debate going.
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    Aug 4 2011: I am not sure eliminating grading creates a culture of people who will want to learn. I think it creates a culture of individuals who feel entitled to something for doing absolutely nothing.

    Throughout school, with my mother also being a teacher in one of the worst schools in NY State, I saw thru her that teachers have to care about the students enough to accept blame for when they have not done well. She felt as if she failed them, which drove her to work harder. And she was teaching students who no one expected anything from. I cannot picture her having a narrative with them, without grades, actually accomplishing anything. She let them know that they had to improve, and she was behind them. It was a grading + narrative, which they needed as most of these children had parents addicted to drugs.

    But I dont see eliminating grades as an answer. I think a teaching style fails before the grading system does.
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      Aug 4 2011: Steven, results-only learning is an entire system that embraces much of what you discuss. With student autonomy, project-based learning, the elimination of useless tests and quizzes and narrative feedback over grades, students develop a thirst for learning -- not entitlement.

      I have seen this firsthand.
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    Aug 3 2011: I am not sure I agree with this; not because it is a bad idea, but because the change would be inflicted on youth while the adult world still "grades" each other in a work environment.

    I dont see grades as crutches. I see them as goals to set to achieve. What may be missing in this process are those who think, "I teach, I grade, and the next class comes in." Grading must by accompanied by feedback on how to achieve goals or what went wrong.

    My point is...I have seen this start already with something called "inventive spelling". When these youth have been taught there is something wrong with setting a benchmark, grade, or goal for yourself, when someone else does it to them, they will not know how to handle it. As someone who has hired and looked at hundreds of resumes with inventive spelling and people who do not understand why they were turned down, yet feel obligated for success because teachers told them it was ok, I cannot help but think removing grades removes an important part of human development: Accountability.
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      Aug 3 2011: Interesting take, Steven. I agree in some places. For instance, I would never tell a student that inventing her own spelling is okay. Obviously, we still have expectations in some places that require certain formalities.

      Still, I don't think grades are related to these expectations. Nor do I believe grades should be used as goals. I never had grade goals, but I did have a thirst for learning, and this is what I want to instill in my students.

      With narrative feedback, there is simply no need for the letter grade. If we eliminate grading completely, we will create a culture of people who see learning as paramount. I wonder how much better our world would be if everyone had a built-in desire to learn.
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          Aug 4 2011: I'm not sure if you make a point here that is related to the topic.
  • Aug 3 2011: As an educator at a college, I find myself asking "What is the purpose of the grade?" Grades only work to motivate students who are motivated by grades or what it could mean to them, such as wanting a high GPA or the bragging rights. For students to whom these are trivial matters, grades don't matter. With this reasoning, neither group has focused on the real issues, which is their learning the material for which they were receiving a grade.

    The reason students earn their grades is a complex issue with as many factors weighing on it as those affecting a web site's Google Quality score! There is no doubt in my mind that personal interaction between the student and teacher can have be of great benefit to both parties. It helps the teacher to better assess the student and the student be more direct in discussing their issues and goals. This requires time and effort and many schools are not truly supportive of this, due to cut-backs, stretching educators thinly, "No Child Left Behind" and lack of parental support.

    Unfortunately, it is easier to look at a quick summation of perceived efforts, such as test scores and report cards, that have been neatly categorized so as to make blanket statements about "The State of Education" rather than to make the changes needed that would result in the desired positive outcomes. There is no substitute for meaningful discussion.

    If one thinks that grades are outdated, I proposed that the employee yearly review process be revoked as well. SInce that is typically a 5-pt scale where being a 1 is unattainable and a 5 means you should be fired, suddenly the A-F scale looks pretty fair! (Ah, but this is another discussion entirely.)
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      Aug 3 2011: As a student in college I constantly wonder how or even if a system can be created in which students who are active and engaged get rewarded for their curiosity and experimentation, and are forgiven for some of the mistakes.

      I constantly find myself so paralyzed by the possibility of a mistake that my work often doesn't it's reach full potential. As a teacher can you see any possibility of a system where students are liberated from this fear but are graded fairly on their understanding?
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        Aug 3 2011: Jesse, the system for the liberation of which you speak is a Results Only Learning Environment. It completely eliminates traditional teaching and learning methods, like homework, worksheets, classroom rules, grades and too much independent work. Students have plenty of autonomy in the ROLE. They work with peers and choose how they want to demonstrate learning outcomes.

        The ROLE is transformative education that engages students like never before.

        Thanks for adding to the discussion.
      • Aug 4 2011: The most fun I ever had as a teacher took place outside of the system. Some of my students wanted to form an orchestra so they recruited other students and asked me to come and teach them in a garage during the summer.

        When I showed up my complete contribution was to form them into a circle, give them a bit of interpretive information about the composers and eras and then sit back and listen. The students would spend hours without rest getting something absolutely as good as they could get it. When they found problems that they couldn't figure out it was often because they lacked the raw physical skills and practice / endurance to complete the task. That was when I would assign skill building exercises on a student by student basis.

        The kids, although worried at first about making mistakes, soon loosened up and buckled down. They just had to get used to shouldering their responsibility rather than counting on another person, or a grade to carry it for them.
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      Aug 4 2011: Trish, you make many excellent points, and I agree entirely about the employee performance review. If you read Drive by Daniel Pink, you'll see he feels the same way.

      I have had principals use the point scale only when evaluating me, and I've had others leave lengthy, specific narratives.

      I'm sure you can guess which ones I value most.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.
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    Aug 3 2011: Definitely not. Because you wouldn't be able to differentiate the difference between the outstanding students, and the not so ones. All the hard work, dedication, and determination that some of the students put in to get into college, to make a career, and to succeed in life will be worthless without the grades, and the pressure for good grades.
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      Aug 3 2011: Ashley, I can't tell if your are for or against grades. You speak of distinguishing between good and not good, but later you mention the pressure of grades.

      I will just say that pressure to get a good grade is neither productive nor educational. Also, I don't see any need to distinguish one student from another when it comes to learning.

      This is why I'm also against awards programs and honor and merit rolls. These create competition and underscore the grade, more than the learning. I want students to develop a love of learning -- not a race to a certain GPA.
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        Aug 4 2011: Mark, I see what you mean, but not everyone functions in that they learn for the joy and education of it. Depending where you live, some kids need that extra boost to do well. Some kids work well under pressure. As you probably know, not all kids are alike. Some come from difference races, cultures, and communities. Maybe in some parts of the world, where all the kids are the same, and usually get the same grades, it shold be considered. But as far as you live in a melting pot, like I do, it isn't suggested.
        • Aug 4 2011: Well then why not reinvent the way school is taught instead? Yes, some people learn best when they're in a competitive or goal-oriented environment but that doesn't mean that they are better or smarter. it means that the school system they are involved in works best for them. But what about the other students who aren't comfortable with learning in that type of environment? Some people, such as myself, simply don't function well under pressure for being the best of your class or having top grades. That doesn't mean we are any less intelligent than the others who have higher grades. It means that the way in which our intelligence is measured doesn't suit the way in which our knowledge is obtained.
        • Aug 4 2011: Ashley, why isn't it suggested?

          And I find your post to be an ad for the getting people to volunteer to get on the wheel and run the rat race... "More, more, faster, faster, achieve, achieve... what a good little drone I am ... thank you boss, thank you... what do you mean my job was outsourced? "
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          Aug 6 2011: Ashley, I appreciate your insights. Some would say this is just semantics, but I think students want to be challenged, not "pressured." I'm in favor of challenging my students, and the ROLE encourages them to challenge themselves. This is the beauty of results-only learning. There is no pressure to get a score on a test that some teacher thinks you should get. There is, though, intrinsic motivation to succeed and to learn.

          Thanks for weighing in on this.
  • Aug 3 2011: Tell this to my fellow peers and they will balk at this idea. One of my pet peeves is the constant complaint of students discussing their averages. Averages do not mean a thing, and what really upsets me is that the really great students who care about education believe that unless they receive above a 95 on their report card, they won't get into college and apparently don't know a thing about the subject. I can't stand my friends complaining about bad test grades and essay grades, and these are the very same people who use their averages as a way to higher themselves in the social realm of my school. I believe that everyone in high school is affected because teachers nowadays threaten that unless you get above an 85 in the class, you won't get into a great school, and sadly this is true for most colleges/universities. I have never heard of MIT or Harvard accepting a student with a 84 average. This has to stop because many students may not be getting those 90s or 95s in class, but they are becoming people and maturing and finding their self identity. My economics teacher once talked about the fact that you can get a bunch of people from Harvard to write a great report, but will they be able to socialize with different people? Will they be able to present in front of a class or have a regular, average discussion? Schools should promote learning by doing, and helping students grasp the topic through discussions and fun activities. Grades can help and hurt your sense of self, but they mostly hurt.
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      Aug 3 2011: Anna, this is a thoughtful post and, obviously, I agree. It will take people like you and your peers to help with this reform movement. Talk to your teachers about results-only learning. See if they will be willing to eliminate grades, at least on activities and projects. This would be a good start.

      Thanks for you comment.
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    Aug 3 2011: Also, just to get a sense of the counter-argument, I Googled "Why grades are important." My search query turned up hundreds of results, all of which sounded like an elementary school teacher speaking directly to a student, "Good grades are important because it will help you get into a good school, get a good job, ect."

    I turned up no idealogical argument stressing the importance of grades as a vital component to a child's education. I think this really highlights how grades are just a means to an ends, that ends being objective personal prosperity. We need to reshape our education system so that that ends shifts from personal prosperity to personal growth. I wholly agree with you Mark.
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      Aug 3 2011: Hey LA, I appreciate your time with the Google search. Maybe we need some articles that will appear in that search. A few blog posts with the same title that say that grades are important only to exemplify why they are useless.

      I look forward to you writing it :)

      Thanks for contributing to this debate.
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    Aug 2 2011: The debate here shows to me - reform of grades: yes, but also a reform of the school structure. I like the idea that pupils choose their topics by themselves. curriculum2.0 ?
    Another structural reform could include new offers for personality growth and inter-cultural competences - undoubtly this is a central competence for team management and effecient administrational leadership, a key for global players to have success (and not bad for democracy also....) But how do you do this?
    One project of the Culture Capital of Culture 2010 involved 100 pupils from 33 European countries to check out the new needs for school - "arts for education".
    We did a HD-Film with english subtitles. I hope it is an inspiration for the debate here:
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      Aug 2 2011: Bernd, I love what you've shared; awesome video. Although I must admit we haven't done anything on a global scale, we do embrace the study of various cultures in my class.

      Thanks for sharing.
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    Aug 2 2011: OK, you guys, just saw the movie "The Blind Side" (I know, what am I, two years or so late?) and I'm not usually such a sucker, but I was crying about 15 minutes in. Ridiculous. My weepy self aside, here was what it brought up for me in terms of this conversation:A lot of the focus of the educational setting of this film was about grades - getting a certain score or number. One teacher stepped out of the box and (gasp!) read a test aloud to a student and recorded his responses. She basically allowed him to demonstrate his knowledge/mastery of the material in a non Reading/Writing format. In teacher-talk, she was accessing different learning modalities (in this case, auditory). But it relates in pedagogy to student-driven lessons as well. So, for example, if we were all studying the human skeletal system, Birdia could design an installation art piece, Ian could create a crossword puzzle, and I could research the bones as used in poetry throughout the ages - all different ways of addressing the same (pre-identified, shared, and discussed) learning objectives. What do people think about this? Do you have to read it and write it to know it? Also, is there room for this in ROLE learning? And how does it (does it) relate to the traditional giving of grades?
    • Aug 2 2011: Susan
      I would like to add a piece on bones in Latin American culture, or maybe talk about "calacas", the skeletons used in the Day of The Dead celebrations.
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        Aug 2 2011: Sweet! Welcome to our digital, collaborative (and imaginary, but very exciting) classroom! We do Dia de los Muertos pretty big here in Taos.
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        Aug 3 2011: Michael las calacas estas muy vivas. Recomiendo los grabados de Posada. El nombre completo es:
        Calaca ciriquiciaca.

        No se si lo recuerdes este juguete en el mercado: una pequeña cajita que la abres y sale una calaca que te pica la mano con una aguja. Y las mascaras de calaca y el pan de muerto. Todo adornado con papel picado de colores y la ofrenda de comida pal muertito.

        Si te das cuenta siempre hablamos de cosas sencillas y alegres como las calacas y los imagino una teoria conceptual sobre las calacas comiendo mangos. urge seguirnos divirtiendo Michael.

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      Aug 2 2011: Susan, the kind of collaboration and creativity you speak of is exactly what happens daily in the ROLE. Students are given learning outcomes and provided with a wide variety of means for demonstrating mastery learning, including creating their own projects.

      I hope you'll consider committing to this sort of classroom by participating in the Results Only Project:
  • Aug 2 2011: I think it's a bit problematic. Which method, if not the grades, should be used for selection to higher education? And secondly, why can't grades and feedback go hand in hand?

    I think it's a very utopian suggestion. Here in Sweden it's only the communists and far left-leaning politicans who have suggested this.
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      Aug 2 2011: Mathias, I see why some see this as a utopian system, although I don't think communist is accurate. The reason I suggest not to pair feedback with grades is because the grades are meaningless.

      Why does higher education need a letter or a number. If I am a college recruiter, I'd much prefer specific, detailed meaningful feedback about prospective students.

      Thanks for weighing in.
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    Aug 2 2011: If we switch teachers with tutors it may be easier. On the other hand graduation etiquette means more than grades these days.
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      Aug 2 2011: Erol, I'm not in favor of eliminating teachers, but I would like for them to change their methods.
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    Aug 2 2011: I basically agree, grades as now employed tend to be counterproductive for most students, feedback, competency rating even occasional ranking for comparison yes. But first let the students choose their subjects other than a sharply circumscribed curriculum ie. real learning skills. listening, reading, verbal and written communication, memory enhancement and self awareness just to name a few
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      Aug 2 2011: Although I'm all for choice in education, I don't think we can allow young students to choose their subjects; we might never have a student in math or science if we did. It's important to expose children to all academia, so they can find their niche. I do think we should begin to allow them more freedom in their own scheduling by high school.

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        Aug 2 2011: Mark yours is a common reaction of the specialist. Unfortunately every instructor thinks his subject is the one essential to everyone. But consider, other than enough Math to take care of personal finances and enough Science to take care of personal health what more is needed for 90% of the population? Actually too many of our citizens seem challenged to manage that, so that I would have to say the current system has apparently failed even in that low expectation. Yes I absolutely agree that exposure to a variety of disciplines and general stimulation to explore is a vital concept.
        But how many rocket scientists do we need? Having asked that, still I feel sure that if free enterprise principles were applied in school you would end up with more and better students for your tech courses. Please answer me this, how often have you used a memorized geometry theorem in your normal life since you got out of school? Has anyone seen an episode of Mccgyver where he used one? My own personal search has yet to find one such person. Since surveys done one year after high school graduation show that the 50 (odd) percent that graduate retain barely 20% of the sacred cow curriculum just what have we accomplished other than boring 90% of the students into a near coma? The silly idea that forcing everyone to study higher math teaches transferable logic or critical thinking skills is refuted at every election. My point here is that anyone who is forced to study anything without being convinced of its relevance in their own lives is extremely unlikely to retain anything useful. Any real pedagogue will tell you that the one essential component for useful learning is motivation. My other point is that we do a poor job of teaching even the recognized basics in this country. Apparently 40% of Americans are functionally illiterate in that they seldom if ever read for pleasure or to inform themselves on new topics. Reportedly 80% of books are purchased by 10% of the population.
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          Aug 2 2011: Chad I agree with you here. I, for one, hated math and use it very little. I do want my students to choose what to learn about.

          The Results Only Learning Environment helps build a thirst for learning. This is my top goal.

          I steer my students to new learning paths, and I encourage plenty of reading. From there, I figure they will figure out the rest.
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    Aug 2 2011: I partially agree with this, but only partially because of this: for some students (myself occasionally included) grades are a huge motivating factor--I know that I study twice as hard in math when I can see solid, conclusive evidence of my hard work in the form of a nice satisfying A.

    On the other hand, grades definitely fail to motivate me in language arts because I get A's most of the time (the teacher just grades by the rubric, which is always fairly easy) and get kind of desensitized. I would really appreciate a lot more narrative feedback in a subject like language arts or history, whereas I wouldn't really be highly motivated by more feedback in Algebra where there's usually only one right answer and if I know I got a question wrong, I will figure out how to do it right the next time.

    In other words, there are some students (like me) who really like having a sort of benchmark to be accountable to. We're continually comparing ourselves to others as a means of motivation, and grades--while obviously imperfect--provide one method of comparison and motivation.
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      Aug 2 2011: Adora, I appreciate your contribution. I saw you speak at eTech Ohio a couple of years ago, so I'm familiar with your work. I think you are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to being motivated by grades.

      My experience is that most students are hurt by grades more than they are helped by them. Far too many children fall into a cycle of bad grades at a very young age, because they don't develop a thirst for learning, as you obviously did. When students don't have this thirst, they often put in only a cursory effort. Then, they get hit with F's. Now, they see themselves as failures and, sadly, this attitude hurts them for many years.

      I think if you were in a Results Only Learning Environment, in which you were given detailed meaningful feedback during and after your work, you'd come to appreciate it much more than that A.

      Thanks so much for contributing to this discussion. You can learn more about results-only learning at my blog, If you're interested, I have a book I can share with you on the subject.
  • Aug 2 2011: If you went to a music recital by a player who got an A and one who got an F I'm pretty sure you would be able to tell the difference.
    If the topic were not music or performance but rather mathematics then the A student understood the basic principles and was able to apply them to a new problem (the exam question) sucessfully.
    If the topic were english literature, the A student knew enough about the topic to formulate a response to the question (for example, refute the allegation that the literature of the middle ages was moribund), to organize his/her arguments in a logical coherent way and could express them in an elegant manner.
    Most (if not all) the teachers I know don't just give a grade and be done with it. There is always more for the student.
    But grades say that at this time I am this good in this subject.
    Left to their own imaginations, students will rate their performance better than it really is (usually)
    • Aug 2 2011: I agree. As per wikipedia's Illusory superiority article,
      "In a survey of faculty at the University of Nebraska, 68% rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability."

      Especially in American Culture, we tend to inflate such attitudes. When I was in elementary school, everything was "great", "awesome" or "excellent". For example, my English is definitely in the "top 1%" as my teachers would have lead me to believe.
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      Aug 2 2011: Gordon, although I understand your examples, you are wrong about students rating their performances. Since my district requires a report card grade at the end of each marking period, I ask my students to reflect on their performance and the wealth of feedback they've received from me and then to grade themselves. Ninety percent of my students grade themselves either exactly as I would or more harshly. Last year, in two marking periods, over 30 percent of my students assigned themselves a lower grade than the previous grading period. Five students gave themselves F's. Adults tend to underestimate young people.

      Back to your examples. Let's say I see two violinists at a recital. One plays beautifully, and the other plays horribly, in my opinion. I tell one he's an A and the other he's an F. Meanwhile, you are there, too. Your ear is tuned differently from mine. You give each performer the exact opposite grade.

      Which musician learns the most?
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    Jul 31 2011: I completly agree. The grading system used today is discouraging, and labels all to quickly. Our school has three lines under our grades of feedback although I don't know of one teacher who really utilizes it to tell us anything we could do to improve. In aboloshing the grade portion it would force them to really help us, and stop cateogorizing us as F-student or A-student, and saying that's where you are because you are incompetent or aren't trying hard enough. Public education has many more problems than this, although I am greatfull somone is at least disscussing one of them.
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      Jul 31 2011: Wow, I couldn't disagree more. Opinions like yours are exactly why we have standardized tests and the attempted abolition of collective bargaining.

      If teachers are such louts, why send students to school at all? Let them all be home schooled.

      I think the majority of teachers are not only highly intelligent, they have a passion for teaching that most other professionals lack.

      As far as evaluation of learning and mastery of skills, it's one of the most important parts of the job. Sure, I want the student involved, but my role in evaluating students is something I value dearly.
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          Aug 1 2011: You apparently have commented without reading much of the conversation. You probably have not read any of my blog,, either.

          If you had, you'd know that I have absolutely no interest in control. I've eliminated all control in my class -- one of the reasons I got rid of grades.

          Yes, I do value unions. They protect the interest of the most important people in society -- service workers. Without them, we'd be subject to the ignorance of bureaucrats and people who do not understand what teachers do. These are people, who think standardized testing and grades are good things.

          They've also never been teachers.
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  • Jul 30 2011: Hello,
    Good discussion here. If you read E.D. Hirsch's book, "The Schools We Need," you will find a study that clearly shows that students, across the world, try harder and learn more when there are grades in classes. This is because they are not only a means of feedback, but also because they are a motivating factor. We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes, and grades give crucial feedback to us regarding where we are deficient.

    They are important and should not "go away," but they also should be used properly; in other words, grade inflation has occurred due to the shoppingmallization of many US schools. This is perhaps one reason why so many people want to get rid of them.

    We need to set good and firm standards for all grades and schools, and then grade students accordingly so that they know exactly where they stand.
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      Jul 30 2011: Hey Evan, I guess you've clearly demonstrated what's wrong with research; you can find support for anything. I've read and like Hirsch; however, if you read Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and Carol Dweck, they will suggest the exact opposite of what you and Hirsch say about grades.

      More important to me is my own hands-on experience (the best research of all). As a 17-year teacher, I've taught both ways. What I have found is that grades impede learning -- regardless of if the student gets an A or an F. Students do not thirst for learning because of a grade. The grade is just something they've been conditioned that they have to have.

      Also, my vast experience tells me that D-F students remain that year after year. This holds true for A-B-C students. How much or how little they learn is completely unrelated. Most A students test well and complete activities; many cheat, just to please parents with the A. Students who get Ds and Fs don't try, because they've been constantly punished by grades and, sadly, come to learn that they can't learn.

      In my Results Only Learning Environment, where the only grade is one a student gives to herself at the end of a grading period for a report card, students learn for learning's sake. They complete all activities and projects, because they are given plenty of choice in the learning and they develop a thirst for improvement, based on narrative feedback.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
      • Jul 31 2011: Dear Mr. Barnes,
        You're welcome for chiming in on this. You would be correct in your analysis that your D-F students remain that year after year. Your A-C students do as well. If you have done your research in education, as your vast experience suggests, then you have read and fully appreciate the findings of the Coleman report.

        Furthermore, if you have read, like, and fully understand Hirsch's entire argument, then you would understand that it is not simply teachers like you giving grades or not here and there (regardless of whether you employ them for feedback, which apparently you don't), but the problem is that the entire K-12 system needs to have a unified curricula in order to change those D-F students to A-B students. In fact, there are hundreds of schools, using grades, in fact, that are doing this right now all across America and other countries. They are taking underprepared students who are, in your vast experience, D-F students that remain that year after year, and these school curricula are taking them and moving them up to where they need to be. And they use grades successfully.

        A couple of questions to you, Mr. Barnes: first, would you be comfortable flying on a plane in which there were students who graded themselves throughout high school and college? Where does objective criteria lie in your ROLE?

        Second, why is it that techniques like the one you are suggesting, with students grading themselves and you giving narrative feedback, have not been proven to be sufficient in raising our international test scores?

        I am eager to hear another chime.
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      Jul 31 2011: This one is quite easy. Standardized tests are the worst form of assessment that has ever come along. And the myriad of schools giving D's and F's, of which you allude, are definitely not raising their grades or their scores. If they were, we wouldn't be scoring so poorly nationwide, and so many students wouldn't be failing to graduate.

      I would be fine with a student who graded himself piloting my plane. I'd prefer him over someone who cheated his way to A's, as he might take the easy way out and skip items on the pre-flight checklist. A results-only student would never do this.

      To answer your second question, narrative feedback as a single formative assessment system hasn't been proven successful or unsuccessful on a wide scale, because it hasn't been tried very much. It's only private schools and some progressive public schools that are willing to attempt it. I'm hoping that discussions like this one and presentations like the one I delivered today at the global Reform Symposium will help ignite the system's popularity.

      I have tried it. By the way, not that standardized tests mean anything, but my students outperformed their peers in classes with grades on our own state-mandated test by far.
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    Jul 29 2011: Although I don't see how anyone could disagree with you in that the current education systems are fundamentally flawed, I don't think the grading system is at the heart of the issue.

    Let's be realistic about it, the world as it is now needs grades. No one should get into a course exclusively due to a "boundless inner spirit" or things of that nature. The real problem with the grading system today, then, are not the grades themselves, it is what they mean and how they are interpreted.

    All people are, most assuredly, NOT born equal. Anyone with a brain formed within reasonable divergence from that theoretical concept we call "normal" has his/her own set of subjects and skills which they will naturally be inclined towards (and probably excel at), just as those that they will not feel any innate attraction for (and are prone to failure in). The education system of today ignores these truths. As a result, your academic accomplishments (at least, as a child) are more a measure of how well you have forgone of your natural dispositions and put in their place a studious automaton with a fairly good grasp of all disciplines, regardless of your often obvious suitability for only a few.

    We need an education system which starts off very general and then progressively places students into higher degrees of "specialization" far before they choose their first optional high-school course. Competition will still be, and should still be there. But only if it is in the context of a group of people all playing to what their natural strengths are. Which is arguably even more competitive than the current system, but also more honest. At least for now, we still need grades, certainly not to be taken as the only measure of success, but undeniably as an important one.
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      Jul 29 2011: Gabriel, you make some compelling arguments about the flaws in education and the grading system. Still, I completely disagree with what you say about the need for competition in education. There is absolutely no need for it at the K-12 levels in anything short of athletics.

      Also, I certainly deny the importance of grades. As I have stated here many times, grades do not effectively indicate the abilities of students. I can learn far more about a student's abilities with a compilation of year-long narrative feedback than I can ever learn from a final report grade of B, which says absolutely nothing about a student.

      Thanks for contributing.
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        Jul 30 2011: Mark, I have no doubts you could gauge your student's learning based purely on a narrative and even less doubt your conclusions would be grandiosely more detailed than, say, a "B" . Indeed, we all do this to a lesser extent to the people we know and talk to everyday.

        The problem is the almost complete lack of objectivity which comes with dropping the grading system.

        Let's say there are two students, X and Y, newly graduated from their respective high-schools, both of which ran on the no-grades/narrative evaluation method. They both apply to the same course, in the same university, and are to be judged by the same person. In your system, how could that person possibly make a justifiable decision, reasonably within the realms of objectivity of who should get in if they are seemingly equally qualified? What would that person have to work with? A simple interview? What if X is more confident/charming than Y? Teacher testimony?

        Mr.X- "X is fantastic, he is adept at all the basic skills needed for this course..."

        Mr.Y- "Y is exceptional, he is very skilled at all the required criteria..."

        There is a huge problem here, you must agree.

        Now, this is not at all to claim a similar scenario might not occur with grades. I think I made my position on those very clear. But surely they don't allow for the same level of fuzziness and extreme subjectivity as your proposed system, if I have understood it correctly.
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          Jul 30 2011: I don't think you've understood the system correctly. You suggest in your X-Y example that a teacher/professor is judging these students on "confidence, charm and testimony." This is not what narrative feedback is.

          Feedback is meaningful, detailed, specific. In the education world I envision, a student would enter college with a thick portfolio of feedback that would give a very clear picture of the student's skills, weaknesses and personality.

          This example of a year-end performance review may help. Although feedback is ongoing throughout the school year, imagine a student with dozens of these lengthier narratives in a portfolio, heading into college.
      • Jul 30 2011: I have to say I'm still agreeing with Gabe on this one. I've been to the site. I really do like your teaching strategies. Feedback is crucial, and having honest performance reviews just like in a job is very beneficial.

        The no rules, free structure thing will work with older kids in an honors class who are mature, and will also work with younger kids in an honors class because they are afraid to act out anyhow. I can't see how this method would motivate average high school students who REALLY just do not care.

        For appropriate classes this is a great teaching style. I just don't see why a grade can't be given in a performance review. If nothing else it would be an honest evaluation of them, a tangible figure they can work so they don't feel like you're just being nice or so they can make sure that their self-esteem is an accurate portrayal of their learning and effort.

        Figure out how to get colleges and employers to make important and correct decisions about who they choose with this method, or, assign grades with the ongoing narratives and I back this method fully.
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          Jul 30 2011: Brian, I understand your perception; it is one that many teachers have. Trust me, though, as I speak from experience, the no rules and no consequences technique works at any level and any kind of student.

          I teach 7th grade -- not high high school. I have a heterogeneous group, which includes a lot of low-motivated learners. These students flourish in the Results Only Learning Environment, because they are given the kinds of freedoms they've never had before entering my classroom, in most cases.

          Plus, the project-based, workshop setting that the ROLE is based on creates exciting learning opportunities that keep students more focused on learning and interacting than on being disruptive.

          So, take away the rules, give more freedom, create amazing choice-based projects, allow collaboration, and you'll see discipline issues disappear.

          Thanks for chiming in on this.
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    Jul 29 2011: Good teachers are good communicators. They know when to tell a story, when to lay down the law, when to encourage, when to discourage. I think first and foremost a teacher must win the repect of his/her students. Second, a teacher must also be "student" and by example teach the students what it means to thirst for knowledge.
    Teaching is more art than science. There is no one "right" way to do it. It must come from the imagination. When we say teachers are among the most important people in our lives, we are referring to those teachers that possess the "art" of teaching. Not the "punch-in/punch-out" teachers.
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      Jul 29 2011: Jim, I couldn't agree with you more. You have succinctly summarized the essence of good teaching.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.
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      Jul 29 2011: Jim, what do you mean by 'lay down the law'? In ROLE there are no rules or consequences; just encouragement to be respectful. It sounds like there's a fundamental disagreement here.
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        Jul 30 2011: There are consequences to every action.

        By "laying down the law" I meant setting limits/ground rules. Although my teaching style is one that generally does not talk about ground rules/limits, when and if the occasion comes when I feel they need to be spelled out I do it. I see it as something that is sometimes necessary to reassure the group that I will keep the classroom environment positive, respectful, inclusive and productive.

        to insure safety.
        Just as there are times when a teacher must encourage a student, there are also times when a teacher is responsible
  • Jul 28 2011: Well, a rough idea of it would be there would be categories of learning or skills of learning.
    I don't believe in eliminating grades, but what teachers grade should be changed.

    For instance, if a student is incosistent at doing homework then there should be an area where that can be documented. There could be a skill category for being "Timely/Prudent/Consistent" (can't find the write term, hopefully you catch my drift). Performance and Punctuality should recorded in different categories because while it is important to improve both and both effect one another, but they are not the same thing.

    My intention is to create a multi-dimension cogntive chart of a student, similar to how patients have information-rich medical histories. I believe there should be learning histories.

    So I believe there should be a grade that it is recorded for the classes, which mostly reflects quizes, projects, essays, and exams. (major assignments) Smaller assignments should be another category that I mentioned earlier, which could be chalked up to professionalism/accountability. Metacognitive skills like problem solving, ability to reflect, self-regulation, working with others, etc.

    Students, teachers, parents, and counselors should work to track the students academic and cognitive history. Also, all parties should encourage the student to submit works that represent their ability and growth into the portfolio. Maybe one project from each grade, if the student wishes. This could be done electronically and universities could have access to this student information, giving them more than just their ACT/SAT score.

    We shouldn't off traditional grading, but we need to revise it. And I realize measuring creativity is tough and there are problems with trying to measure the undefinable and unmeasurable, but it does need to be represented. Pairing a revised traditional grading system with a multi-dimensional evaluative one would give a better picture of our students, which they deserve.
    • Jul 28 2011: Thank you Michael. I like the idea of the cognitive chart as a "medical record" of sorts. Learning in the affective areas should be charted too and there are ways to do that.
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      Jul 28 2011: Hmm., I like the "multi-dimension cognitive chart" idea. Not entirely sure what it looks like, but it think it fits to some degree with narrative feedback.

      Thanks for the input.
      • Jul 29 2011: Ok, I am not keen on the old learning objective heirarchy of things (people learn at all levels all the time) but, if there were some way to construct as Michael mcc says that multi-dimensional chart including both the cognitive and the affective it would be very nice. Does the student "know X" and does the student know why "X" is of value or not. Understanding a novel like "No Country for Old Men" and understanding what McCarthy means when he says that.
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      Jul 29 2011: Interesting. A chart that continually grows and changes as the student does, representing all their cognitive and social facets. It would be remarkable. I think you've got your work cut out designing it and figuring out how to measure everything. One of the worst things about grades is that even if they are somewhat representative of ability at the time, they become increasingly irrelevent as time passes; and yet employers and other institutions still ask for them, even decades after they were achieved. A possible problem with your chart, is that it would cease to be updated after school, and become more of a burden than a help to someone who continues to improve themselves.
  • Jul 28 2011: It strikes me that this really centers on the question of "what are we assessing for".

    If the assessment takes place in order to help the student understand how well they've mastered the subject matter, a grade can be a shortcut, which might be useful as part of a more rounded, feedback-based assessment. If the assessment exists to inform future schools, colleges and employers of the students aptitude on a test, the only real benefit to the grade is to show how good a student's short term memory was for that test.

    Assessing for the purposes of helping the student improve would require constant feedback (and possibly grading) throughout their education. A grade given at the very end of the course/school year strikes me as comparatively useless.

    Even within subjects such as mathematics and the sciences, there is a massive difference between someone who was able to cram the knowledge in a short space of time in order to pass an exam and someone who internalized the knowledge in such a way that they can still recall and use it in later years. A grade of "A" can describe someone who has excelled in both scenarios, but doesn't actually tell us much of any value about what the student actually learned in a meaningful way.

    I'm over simplifying, but hopefully my central point comes through.
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      Jul 28 2011: You make a brilliant point about cramming knowledge. This is what is so wrong with the system of stand-and-deliver, then test. This is not real learning.

      A Results Only Learning Environment uses year-long projects to demonstrate true mastery learning.

      Thanks for chiming in on this.
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    Jul 27 2011: The Peter principal states that a person rises to their level of Incompetence and then stays there for the rest of their careers. Teachers work many hours outside of the classroom to help students succeed all with out pay. We take all students in classes regardless of IQ. We have no way of knowing if the new student will be able to speak the language, if they have severe learning disabilities, if they have a terrible home life, etc. We take them all and place them in classes. If you are a male teacher you get all the students with behavior issues and hear phrases like they need a father image, or you are a man and can control them better. This is a snap shot of what I have experienced as a teacher of 12 - 15 year old students for the past 15 years. These students have no interest in grades and grades again do not prove anything. Many of my students have gone on in life to be successful and come back to me to share it and when I ask what they remember from class it is that they were respected and loved and encouraged. Not grades, not tests, not even the materials we covered. Just that they were loved and respected and told they could achieve. I have a student that was a resource student that is now in college to be a psychotherapist. Her one comment is that I taught her she could achieve. Those are the lesson I think teachers need to be focused on not some lesson from a text book company.
    As far as broad sweeping statements that are negative turn on the news and listen to the president of the US, the congressmen, and the experts. I speak from experience not theory.
    Department chairs are required to be full time teachers in my district and I have talked with the District about requiring principals to teach one class every year and not an AP class but a class of the lowest students. I have taken action to fix things and help administrators stay in touch with reality. So far no success but I will never quit trying. Grades are a guide but are way over rated.
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      Jul 27 2011: James, I could not say it any better myself. Even though your experience is certainly the best example, there is plenty of research to bear out what you say (Dr. Ronald Ferguson, Tripod Project, is one good example). Surveyed students have said countless times that the biggest impact on their learning is a teacher who cares for and believes in them.

      Thanks for your perseverance. We need more like you.
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      Jul 28 2011: Good, you raised some points that I was about to cover. Educational institutions cannot solve everything. Home life is critical. People learn best when they're in a supportive environment. Let's not throw out the text books just yet though. Once they know they're loved, they still need something to read.
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        Jul 28 2011: I rarely ever use the text books as they are poorly constructed and politically directed (except for math). I took the information and brought it down to what was needed to be learned and then created power points, games, activities, projects etc. to try and make them come to life. Now that I teach Independent Study instead of classes I have to use the text books since I only see each student for an hour a week.
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    Jul 27 2011: A pass fail system with various grades indicating levels of ability is absolutely necessary. Otherwise there is no way to enable people of like abilities to find and interact with each other effectively! For example if you are working on a calculus problem you must have some way to ensure that the people you are collaborating with are all at the same level of comprehension, and that you do not have people who do not know how to add or subtract disrupting the collaboration! Or if one is having a discussion about literature, that you are not stuck with someone who reads at a grade 3 level interrupting the exchange of ideas by constantly asking what esoteric or cogent means.
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      Jul 27 2011: Daniel, although I appreciate your contribution to the debate, I couldn't disagree more. The best collaboration occurs when people have varying abilities. This is how we learn from each other. Everyone brings a unique perspective and skill to the group. I don't want to be in a group with people who read and interpret exactly as I do (how boring). As far as your calculus example, it would be much better to have the entire group searching for comprehension together, pulling from each other.

      There is virtually no research to support what you say about the necessity of grades.
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        Jul 28 2011: You seem to be oversimplifying the debate by equating grades with conformity, and misconstruing varying abilities as an indicator of creativity and diversity. Someone who didn't pass algebra has little to contribute to engineering equations to determine if a bridge is stable under load. A player who can't dribble a ball won't be much help to an NBA player who is trying to improve their game. (I mention this because stats and scores in the athletic world are somewhat analogous to grades.) Grades can create a framework for people to collaborate more effectively. A grade 11 understanding of chemistry will not contribute to a university organic synthesis problem. Monkeys won't write novels until they pass grade 6 English first. Take a hypothetical example of a 14 year old gamer whose understanding of Anna Karenina is that her character killed herself because she "sucks" and is "totally lame". Is that student ready to discuss meaning and symbolism in Dostoyevsky narratives? If that is the capacity of his or her understanding of a narrative, then that student gets an F. This grade is not an indicator of a student's lifetime potential. It is simply a measure of his or her ability at one type of task at one point in time. This gamer might go on to be a billionaire software developer and achieve great things in other fields. But that does not mean that they'd have much to offer to a discussion of symbolism in narratives. Now if said student were to say Dostoyevsky's character sacrificed herself "because like sometimes when you're playing VS online you've got to send one of your team to the enemy zone to be a distraction and get killed so like your team can take up positions without getting shot at, and Anna Karenina was like a teamate who takes the hit so others can be winners...", well that could be anything from a C- to an A depending on how well the student developed the paradigm of self sacrifice.
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          Jul 28 2011: There is some weight in your argument Daniel, but what i see over here on this platform of debate is that its spilling over like political speeches.
          Its gone into the realms of MY Likes are best & my dislikes will be graded.
          Wonder where the real solution to a stable education system has gone ?? Be it with or without grades.
          Ha ha the way its going, in future schools will have another subject to deal with.....Barnes Effect..... & how would that be rated or not, is another debate.
          No offense meant to anyone, but i certainly would like to read some workable solution, as we are playing with children's futures.
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        Jul 28 2011: In a mixed ability group, the weaker or worse behaved students hold the others back. There's not a mutual benefit. Alternatively, if the teacher focuses on the students who comprehend, the weaker students are left even further behind. If we're going to have classes, sorting them by ability is definitely the best practice. As Daniel said, you can still have diversity. Schools needn't put students of the same age together however. Some students can go faster and finish school earlier, others can spend a few more years there, but be more capable in the long run. This might need to be limited so that age ranges didn't vary too much, as social interaction with peers is also important at school, but I don't think this would be too much of a problem, as only extreme cases are going to race ahead or fall back by more than a couple of years.
  • Jul 27 2011: Obsolete? I don't think our education system is obsolete? Is our traditional system way behind? Yes! I think anyone on this forum is in agreement.

    Teachers aren't obsolete. I think teachers need to be held to a higher stand when it comes to theory, child development, technology, and evaluating both student learning and their teaching. I like where the Kahn Academy is going with recording what skills students are struggling with and how that data is visualized so teachers can address it. It ALSO shows where teachers need to improve in their teaching. This is the future.

    It has been my experience that school systems have been more greatly influenced by quick fix solutions (USA) that are sold to school districts, which throw around hip educational jargon.

    Is our traditional evaluation system expired -yes. But, a new evaluative/grading system needs to rise up because it should be for the benefit of the student's education. While current grades/benchmarks are not accurate and not reflective - they serve a purpose. Globalization does not have to equal anarchy. The world is not an art school. We need to consciously develop a more flexible system that embraces technology and provides students and teachers of an accurate portrait of the learning process.

    I agree with the comments that mention having a smaller teacher/student ratio. Well trained teachers can do the best service and teach what they went to school for: teach learning. Teachers understand the metacognitive process and the skills necessary to teach it. Also, they should be trained to understand the problems their heterogeneous students will face trying to learn it. The current system is wasteful because students can learn low-level (but necessary information) more efficiently on their own. Teachers have been transformed into babysitters and that is what has been drawing low-level talent of the years. Passionate teachers need to be on top of the shift, not just greedy-eyed businesses.
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      Jul 27 2011: Wow, Michael, very well stated.

      Although I like some of what Khan offers, I don't agree with it showing how to improve teaching. Khan is no teacher and, truthfully, many of his videos are dull and far too long. Still, there is a place for this kind of technology in learning.

      Thanks for joining the debate.
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      Jul 28 2011: Yes, more student autonomy. Teachers should be there when students are really stuck, solving the more interesting problems, not spoonfeeding info that is already in all the books. One of my classes of French students (learning English) asked me for English vocabulary. I told them they could find it in any of a million articles, books, websites etc., but they said I should give it to them. I was amazed. How lacking in study skills or motivation do you have to be, that you can't find some vocabulary - I mean it's just words, how do you not find vocabulary? You'd have to very carefully not look at any English text. It gets this ridiculous. But they'd been conditioned to thinking a teacher is there to give them everything, and they have no role to play in discovering anything. It's a shame.
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    Jul 27 2011: With a narrative, things can become too general and teachers may start picking favorites and adding in a little bit of extra pizazz to the students grading feedback than they deserve. It is much easier for a teacher to get away with giving a few undeserved comments then to mess around with the numberical grading book to alter a student's grade. The narrative may show what the student has done and what they need to work on which would be great for K-12 grades where the actual cirriculum is not very intense. However, any university teacher/professor should grade using some sort of scale to reflect that individual's intelligence and prowess. I am going to a university to get my degree in Mechanical Engineering and have worked very hard for my A's and B's. I would not appreciate it if all that hard work was not as noticeable because it was lost in translation because of these feedback reports. All it could take is one professor to get it in with a student for a number of possible reasons and that student would be at the whim of the professor's judgement rather than being able to see physical grades based off a numerical score.
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      Jul 27 2011: Hmm., I'm not at all clear on how the letter is any different from feedback, if a professor has "it in for" a student. If I dislike a student, and I'm going to hold a grudge (unimaginable to me), I can just as easily give the student a low number or letter.

      So you would really rather have all those A's and B's, which say absolutely nothing, than a detailed narrative about what you did or didn't accomplish? Why did you get B's, instead of A's?

      For me, if you hadn't mastered something (B), I would have told you specifically what you needed to do to demonstrate mastery. Then, I would have given you a chance to change or add to the activity/project to do so. Isn't this a much better way to learn than just getting that B?
  • Jul 27 2011: Grades alone are ineffective. The solution is a combination of what you have mentioned: Letter grades combined with narrative feedback, not only for parents but for students, as well. I remember when I was in school and progress reports were sent around every 4 1/2 weeks. Along with the letter grades, teachers wrote comments not to explain the grade, but to complement it. I was always frustrated with teachers who did not do this and truly did leave their class feeling as if I had learned very little, even though I had a passing grade. Students need early and speedy feedback, as well, so they can spend the school year (with the teachers assistance and facilitation) working on the skills that need improvement. Another issue is this: Should every student be graded on the same scale? As an English teacher, I have been frustrated with the expectations for writing instruction that encourages prompt-based writing and rubric assessment over individuality and personalized assessment. Could a grading system be designed that is personalized for each student? How would that be monitored? There is no easy fix to this. It would take years. But I am all for revolutionizing the current education system to something that encourages more creativity and individuality while giving students a real feeling of accomplishment.
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      Jul 27 2011: Jason, you sound like my kind of teacher. Next week, I'll be rolling out my Results Only Project, in which I'm asking progressive-minded teachers to commit to at least one ROLE strategy (narrative feedback over grades or elimination of homework, for example).

      You sound like you'd be perfect for this.

      Stay tuned to for details, and thanks for your contribution to this important discussion.
  • Jul 27 2011: Mark
    I am really torn on this topic and a friend said I should post this. After years of teaching on the University level, grading thousands of papers and tests, I still don't know how I feel. You have to say something, and I know you are pushing for a verbal review with the student. That is fine, but I just don't think that will ever be enough, not without a total restructuring of everything from kindergarten to Master's work. So here is my new grading scale...I guess for papers or essay questions

    Gee you thought this through
    Good try and some good points
    A nice answer but where's the meat
    Who did you copy this from
    Did you even read the question
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      Jul 27 2011: Michael, I'm going to assume the feedback examples are posted in jest. I must say I'm especially fond of, "Did you even read the question."

      Regarding the more serious portion of your post, I am completely in favor of revamping our education system from kindergarten to Masters work, as you suggest. I want teaching and learning to be done in a Results Only Learning Environment -- a place driven by autonomy, project-based learning, collaboration, self-evaluation and narrative feedback. If we create a ROLE from the very beginning and continue it throughout, the learning that will take place is hard to imagine.

      I never give a grade, and my students acquire a remarkable thirst for learning, complete amazing year-long projects and outperform their peers in traditional classes on standardized tests. They even ask why other teachers don't use results-only learning.

      Also, they report loving feedback over grades.

      Thanks for your serious comment and the humor, as well.
      • Jul 27 2011: Mark
        Mostly in jest...but...I have actually felt like giving feedback about the way those are phrased. I do wish that we could do something like ROLE as you say, but do you think even the low motivation kids would respond...or rather do they respond to your teaching. I would love to know. I think creating that thirst for learning is the key here.
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          Jul 27 2011: Michael, thanks for following up. I had many low-motivated students last year. I believe they outperform their peers in traditional classes by a lot. I know they do on standardized tests, though this is a very poor measure of ability.

          What low-motivated students embrace about the ROLE, even more than "good" students, is the autonomy it provides. They aren't used to it. Sadly, many of these kids spend much of their time in the principal's office or suspended. They love the ROLE, because I'm not telling them to sit down, bring materials, be on time, stop talking, do your homework, I'm going to call your mom or go to the principal. They get amazing, completely unknown-to-them freedom.

          Plus, they aren't punished by the endless mountains of worksheets, homework, lecture and quizzes in the ROLE. They love the system. I'd like to say it's me, but I know it's not. Kids are brutally honest. They tell me they like my class because of the system, not because of me. They certainly don't dislike me, but I'm not the most fun guy they encounter at school.

          I'd love to see you try a ROLE of your own.
  • Jul 27 2011: I don't think grades should be eliminated, per se. Rather, grades should function like the ratings given to movies, books and video games by critics. They should broadly summarize how negative or positive the teacher's assessment of a student is. But anyone who reads reviews of media knows that if you want a proper understanding of the qualities of a movie or whatever else it is you're thinking of experiencing, you need to read the full review. So it should be with grades.

    In other words, grades should not be primary anymore; they should be auxiliary evaluation tools, and should result from distilling a broader, more complex evaluation down into something simple, rather than from an evaluation of a complex learning situation using simplistic criteria.

    But it isn't fair to teachers to demand this kind of change without, as a society, changing the working conditions teachers have to deal with. Bad pay, crammed schedules and overfilled classes don't make for serene mentor figures capable of regularly delivering nuanced and personalized feedback to every pupil. We can't remove grades without first rethinking how schools are organized; otherwise we'd just be replacing one problem with another, and teachers would probably develop an informal system that parallels grades anyway, for lack of time, which would eliminate the benefit.
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      Jul 27 2011: I agree with the main point of your argument where you suggest that grades should not be primary anymore, but the idea of grades functioning like the ratings given to movies, etc. by critics do not seem efficient to me.

      The reason why those ratings are broad summaries is because they are averaged amongst the ratings of many different critics. And unless you are asking for multiple teachers to grade a student on a specific area, there will never be "a broadly summarized" assessment of a student. In fact, such an assessment may even be considered "insincere" on the part of the teacher.

      On the other hand, if you were asking for one numerical rating for the student's achievement in terms of the entire academia, that, I believe, is even more inefficient. That is literally generalizing the ability of a student without paying attention to certain areas where he or she may be particularly good at.

      Of course, the idea of elaborate feedback on a student evaluation would be idealistic, but as you've realized yourself, this is highly unlikely to happen. And contrastingly, I believe that this is not about how schools are organized, but how the teachers perceive the notion of education - their lack of passion. I do not think raising their pay, giving them more freedom and loose schedule would be good incentives. They would need to become self-motivated, given the sort of intrinsic motivators Dan Pink was talking about in his talk on surprising science of motivation.
      • Jul 27 2011: Sorry, I guess I didn't express myself correctly, though I had assumed the ratings analogy would be clear. I didn't mean to compare to ratings such as those on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, which are, as you say, aggregate ratings. I meant to compare to the situation where, for example, Roger Ebert gives a movie three out of four stars (for example) - one review, one reviewer. The three out of four stars he gives is not an aggregate, it is a summary of Ebert's opinion on a particular movie, an opinion fully expressed in the review. Likewise, a grade should be a summary of a teacher's opinions on a particular work performed by a student - i.e. a teacher should review a term paper (say) the same way Roger Ebert reviews a movie, and then give it a grade in the same way Ebert would give it a star.

        I think the lack of passion teachers have for their job is, in large part, a result of working conditions. I had good relationships with my teachers in high school and spoke to them often, and they regularly lamented how they had arrived in the job expecting to do good, have fun and reach out to young people, only to be crushed by an impersonal workload and faced with the fact that more of their time is spent managing classroom behavior and performing clerical work than actually engaging with students in a novel, enriching way.

        Where I'm from, at least, nobody goes into the job for the money or any external reasons - everyone knows teaching is not an easy job (perhaps this is different where you're from). Those people who choose to go into teaching, for the most part, *are* intrinsically motivated, at least to start off with - the school environment damages their motivation in much the same way it damages the creativity of students, by alienating them from the actual purpose of the institution: learning and discovery.
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          Jul 28 2011: Hi Guerric. I appreciate your clarification, though I still disagree. How is "three out of four stars" different from a 75% or a B-? Grades, I think, already are a summary of the teacher's opinion on a particular work done by a student. When a teacher gives a student B on his essay, what else do you think the B means? It IS the summary of his opinion. Now, the question is, do we want to eliminate that? Should we?

          And with regards to the discussion on intrinsic motivators, I think you're making too big a generalization on ALL the teachers from where you come from. It shocks me how you're able to make the assumption that "nobody goes into the job for the money or any external reasons."

          The teaching career is stil considered a secondary job in many places, and I think most people would agree. Despite the number of great teachers who can become true sources of inspirations for students, teaching job is still thought of as a job people settle for when they couldnt do what they wanted.

          Those exceptions are rare. Ok. Maybe not so rare, but not that common either. And you're fortunate to have met many intrinsically motivated teachers. Also, I'm not saying that improving working conditions would be entirely useless. I'm only trying to convey that for the most part, the bigger problem is the lack of passion amongst the teachers, in which case, improving working conditions would not only worsen the situation but would be a total waste.
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      Jul 28 2011: "ratings given to movies, books and video games by critics"
      - movies, books and movies are things depend on preference
      I see we can't include them as examples, I think

      to someone like me, I don't read and/or convinced by what critics say
      I have my own taste, critics will not make any difference to me
      same as Oscar winning movies

      if you mean technically, most of the movies or songs that break the rules, go out of the traditional technical issues, win or have wonderful feedback from audience and listeners

      "We can't remove grades without first rethinking how schools are organized"
      - let's first, reorganize classes, I am not convinced with the one way flow of information structure, for lectures in collages and classes in schools, I think it could have been more utilized if the class was more in groups structure (for new ideas and experience for working in groups)
      the teacher of the lecturer his role is changing for this structure he is more like a supervisor, he gives some ideas about a certain problem for people to come up with newer solutions and ideas
      this as the main motive for creativity and innovation is the "need"
      it is the stimuli for newer ideas
      + grades and the traditional education system, normally provide people ready for making decisions and to come up with the new almost at the age 30 and above
      ideas may come from young people, there must be a supervisor that may notice the potentials

      I think this is a solution to the problem (grading system) I think
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    Jul 26 2011: In theory, I would say yes. But there are consequences to consider. A number of participants have pointed out the business repercussions of removing grades. I would also add college admissions to the list of groups that would not be happy with narrative feedback. Remember, grades aren't given because they're particularly useful to the student. They're given because they're efficient for the rest of us. Doesn't make it right...but it's the reality.

    Mark, you mentioned that you'd like to see "terms" disappear....passing/failing/A/F. We can remove the terms, but the underlying mechanism will likely always be in place. Ranking is done in every aspect of life and never more so than now when our minds are flooded with more information than we could possibly process. I hate to say it because it goes against much of my inherent philosophy on education, but I wonder if categorizing people based on their skills and abilities at certain points in time is part of how society progresses. It's important to note that someone's skill set today may not be the same in a year or two or ten. Constant re-assessment is necessary. This seems to be, ultimately, the time worn debate over the rights of the individual vs. the needs of society.

    So let me ask fellow participants this: if we eliminate grades, how will our progress change? Will we still be as innovative? Will it actually make us better? I wish I had answers :)
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      Jul 26 2011: Wow, Amy, this is phenomenal insight. I truly appreciate your thoughtful comments as well as your question at the end that adds a nice addition to the thread.

      I'll let others comment on your questions, then I'll chime in.

      Thanks so much.
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      Jul 27 2011: I believe there are answers to this question in science- books and TED talks by Dan Pink (Drive) and Barry Schwartz (Practical Wisdom) both describe many studies showing that if we replace or add to intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivators (grades, money, etc.) we do harm to the future performance (for everything except simple tasks) and desire/passion for learning. The motivation can become the extrinsic reward instead of the purpose (learning in this case). I see it all the time in the field of health care. W. Edwards Deming described it in business over 50 years ago. Once people achieve good grades and attain their professional job position (doctors, Deans, hospital administrators, CEO's, nurses, etc.) they tend to "turn-off" their desire for learning. I can look back in my career and see that my desire and passion for continuous learning had been suppressed.
      Mark, I congratulate you for what you are doing. We are trying to do a similar thing for our health care system- starting a new academic medical model based on continuous learning and improvement as well as team-based, patient-centered care. I'll check out your web site and look forward to your book.
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    Jul 26 2011: So far, the best system I've seen beyond the standard 1-4 or A-F was one where the standards taught in the grade were listed on one side, the student was rated as "emerging," "developing," "proficient," or "advanced" in each and then a narrative was provided. I can tell you that it took a lot of paper and teacher hours to do it, but the result was useable and understandable to parents and students.
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    Jul 25 2011: I think grades are a natural and necessary mechanism. To avoid them is to deny the truth about differing abilities. I agree that narrative feedback is very important, as a grade with no justification or indication to improve has little value and can indeed do more damage than good. So the thing to do is use grades in a positive and constructive way, guiding students to improve their grades, and never fail anyone - you just tell them there's more work to be done before you can pass them :)
    • Jul 25 2011: Which results in the students striving to achieve the grade, not the knowledge.
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        Jul 25 2011: Yes, I know what you mean - it's all too common. But you do need a tool to measure progress and knowledge or else no kind of selection can take place; no-one would be able to show a prospective employer or university etc. that they had achieved a certain level. Comparing piles of feedback reports would be too time consuming, and equivalent to grading. The emphasis needs to be on learning for a real purpose. The only grade you ever really need is 'Pass', and this should mean the student knows all the material of the course and is ready for the next level, or to do a job. A 'C' or a 'D', for example, just suggests you haven't undersood it all yet, so it's no place to stop. Going on to a higher level course when you've only grasped 50% or 60% of the lower level course is silly, but that's what happens.The whole system would have to be changed for these ideas to work; the way courses are structured at the moment, and the way they are examined, deprives many students of successful outcomes and is a poor predictor of future job performance.
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          Jul 25 2011: What of, instead of pass/fail we used "gets it / needs work / not yet" and then gave students actual time to move into mastery, instead of jumping to the next topic before everyone is ready?

          What if the final "grade" at the end of the course was a list of competencies demonstrated by the student during the course?
        • Jul 25 2011: I know. It's so frustrating because there really is no good system that anyone has yet conceived. Apprenticeship-style education worked very well in the renaissance, but would that work today?

          A pass/fail system would work better, but I think it should be built around a fundamental truth: some people are stupid. Some people are bad at math, some people don't want or like to do history, and some people are great at everything. The one failure of modern education is the exact opposite of what David Wees said. Don't hold back a class because one student has a malformed head and is bad at spatial reasoning. Instead, hold back the student and move the other students into the requisite higher classes. This should start in kindergarten.

          Too much of our time is wasted learning long division the 305th time when we knew it like the back of our hand 6 years ago. A student that is ready to learn algebra should learn algebra whether he is 7 or 17.

          Some might say "but that's harsh. Kids will feel bad if they see themselves constantly failing at something." Yeah. That's the point. Yes it sounds harsh, but in reality study after study has shown that higher self esteem does absolutely nothing for one's long-term happiness, income level, family life, or crime rates. As it turns out violent criminals think very highly of themselves!

          It's always better to know the truth, no matter how harsh, then to live disillusioned. Do you know how many 20-something male friends I have that are basically failures as adults? Pretty much all of them.
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      Jul 25 2011: Ian, I'm not interested in grades or passing and failing. I'd like to see all of these terms disappear. I want my students to develop a thirst for learning that will last forever. When people get this thirst and are shown how to quench it, they will learn far more than someone who is told what to do and then given an A for following step-by-step instructions. Why do we need to define differing abilities?
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        Jul 25 2011: Hi Mark. I'm sure this approach works well in your classroom, and I expect you're an excellent and inspiring teacher. I like the concept. In fact it's how I learn, and like you say, I have a thirst for learning that is completely disconnected from grades. However, I'm learning for pleasure; I'm not at school, and I already have qualifications that I can show employers. The only point that you haven't made clear to me yet is how employers and universities/colleges can select people. Eg Oxford university is looking for students for its mathematics course, a course that requires a lot of prior learning to an advanced level. They get 2000 applications from students, all with a thirst for knowledge, claiming to be highly motivated. But there's only 400 places. How does the university know which students are really capable, and which are just enthusiastic or lying?
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          Jul 25 2011: Ian, I appreciate your specific example about Oxford's math course. Although I'm not sure my response is what Oxford or other college deans might want, what I would say is that years of detailed narrative feedback about individual activities and projects, along with lengthy narratives at the end of a school year about what was and was not mastered and other important factors about a student, would help someone make a decision much better than a test score and GPA.

          If I were the person at Oxford weeding through 2000 applications, the student with the aforementioned wealth of narrative feedback would have a much better chance of winning a spot than the student with only a meaningless number.

          The problem with numbers and letters is that they say so little. Sure, I can assign an A to a student, and it appears that she has done well. How well has she done, though? How does she compare to 1,999 others applying to Oxford who also have A's.

          My goal is that we get all teachers to use narrative feedback throughout the year, including lengthy year-end summations. Imagine the wealth of material a college admissions dean would have for legitimate evaluation of applicants. My year-end performance reviews include evaluations of student's enthusiasm or lack thereof. In fact, the performance review would be a marvelous tool for separating excellent students -- those who would get A's in the grade world, in order to indicate which one truly belongs at Oxford.

          Hope this helps, and thanks again for your thoughtful discourse.
    • Jul 25 2011: People are capable of realising different abilities exist without it being ingrained in their psyche as a consequence of years of comparisons with others. Smarter people may be more likely to be successful in life but this is not a necessary requirement for success. Grades pigeonhole students into what is statistically expected of them such that it makes it more difficult (unnecessarily so) for students with lower grades to do well.
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    Aug 17 2011: Hello, Mark!

    Perhaps I am from a different context (halfway around the world, oh dear) and I may not fully understand this intrinsically. However, being a student in the Cambridge GCE system (I am taking my Advanced Levels exams this year) for 12 years now, I have asked myself the same question for ages. Grades are depressing to every student. What a to-do, when one student who studies so much ends up failing the exams. However, I believe grades is actually an indicator to how much the student has retained that particular information. After all, ask any student (especially those who are studying in furiously competitive systems, such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore) and they will say that grades shows how much they understand the topic and how much more they need to know. That being said, I suppose the actual learning only comes in later in life, and that grades are sowing the seeds for life skills.

    Take a hypothetical student for example, student X. X studies for a particular exam, and he studies it with extreme passion because he really wants an A. However, after going through the exam and obtaining his results, he failed it. From here on out, student X has 2 choices: 1. Mope about his results, thinking that he has failed completely. 2. Ask himself why he has failed, what has he done right/wrong and how can he change himself to be better.

    I suppose grades are important in testing us how a student can handle failure, whether a student can evaluate on his life, and whether a student can pick himself up. Meaningful narrative feedback is good, however some students may not accept feedback as well as the cold, heartless letter on the examination script. Having not lived adulthood yet, I can only speculate, but I guess what we learn from our failures in schools (by the means of grades) will be etched into us a drive to improve and a spirit of perseverance and a never-say-die spirit, picking ourselves up from setbacks and carrying on in life.
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      Aug 17 2011: I would suggest that if Student X studies very hard and fails that there are likely two problems: he doesn't test well, and/or the test is flawed (most tests are).

      Also, my guess is that students in these competitive environments have been conditioned that grades are all that is important to learning. If taught differently, their attitudes would change and, my guess is, they would actually learn more.

      Thanks for y our comment.
  • Aug 13 2011: Bravo Mark! My pleasure :)
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    Aug 12 2011: I think it make sense; after all when the school days are over and one starts working, the performance of this person will not be measured by how they answer to a set of questions in a limited amount of time.

    On the other hand though, when you look from the students angle; how will they ever be convinced that the teachers are being objective and not just picking on them? Maybe it would make more sense to combine both...
  • Aug 11 2011: I homeschool because I wanted to deviate from the system of competition. MY kids did very well and received honors while still in the regular school. Have they learned anything? Maybe, but the focus turned to 'studying harder' to maintain their status. They forget that learning is supposed to be fun and applicable. They wasted years on making the grade. Zero values. All in middle school and high school, I don't grade, mistakes are explained and taught that its a learning experience...failure is non existent. They are more relaxed and confident with work.

    Thank you for this talk
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    Aug 10 2011: yes i do agree wid u as grades creates divides
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    Aug 10 2011: This idea of no grading I would love and agree with..this mentor/mentee relationship in which the teachers job is to help their students florish and cultivate their stregnths, talents, abilities. We are all individuals afterall and not a statistic that can be grouped together by standardized testing and grades.

    However there are some other issues that come up here. A teacher is not without bias, and what if he/she truly connects with one particular student through common interest or sees a bit of himself in her, or sees a certain potential that he misses in another student? What if this student has potential in a way that the teacher doesn't get nor knows how to nuture. How would he evaluate him or her? And further how could this teacher truly cultivate his student?

    Schools systems, particularly the public school system evaluates on some neccesities that are universal such as math. The end result doesn't vary to each individual. 5x5=25 no matter who you are. They put together a curriculm where we do need these systems in place to evaulate progress in order to know what the student needs to work on and achieve. So how else do we do this with a public school system that can have a teacher student ratio as high as 25:1? How will the administration, dept of education be able to use these evaluations to better their curriculm or point out which schools and in which areas of academics need more focus? It is impossible to read each students evaluation personally, which is why there is a universal grading system and standardized tests to begin with.

    We have teachers that have been caught helping students cheat on tests, or changing answers for them in order for them to pass so they can keep quota so to speak. I wouldn't want these teachers cultivating or evaluating any child, for what are they truly teaching? I believe there must be a reform, yes, but there is a lot to take into account than to just merely take away grades. perhaps we should change the how.
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      Aug 10 2011: Leila, you raise several pertinent issues, which I appreciate. I certainly can't speak to the one about dishonest teachers. (I want to believe in all teachers, even though we know that this is not a reality.)

      As I've stated previously, I believe that narrative feedback removes bias. With practice, the teacher learns to give objective, specific, detailed comments about a student's work.

      I think it's the job of teachers to nurture a thirst for learning. Anyone can do this, in a ROLE.

      Thanks for chiming in.
      • Aug 13 2011: One can never truly remove bias. We are human, we are not computers that can analyze and spit out data. To think that bias can be removed is an idealistic dream. We will never all think, and express ourselves in a similar manner, so we are drawn more to some than others, just as we are drawn to differing professions. We behave this way because it IS human nature to do so.
        Are their great aspects to ROLE? Of that I am certain, for SOME students. Some students require a guage, and yes some students require motivation and competition. A truly dynamic system would incorporate all of these together.
        I have been exposed to a schooling system wherein students in a standard classroom were exposed to extremely learning challenged students of the same age in their classroom. (The challenged person worked with an aide) It had a dual reward. The extremely challenged person did far better for themselves in a stimulated environment, and the "nominal range" students learned to find empathy and a protective nature towards the challenged student. This was a classroom in which standard grading was utilized, however some important life skills were also taught in the process.
        I think we need to get away from such polarized ideals and incorporate the systems together. Each has their benefit. Project oriented learning, where the "measures" (testing and grades) are used not in a punitive manner but solely as a directional guide. Perhaps de-structure the curriculum somewhat to allow for students to explore the many and varied opportunities for learning while still measuring to give that individual, parents and teachers the ability to guide that individual to an eventual positive outcome for them.
        When I was a student Math was my enemy. I hated it and did not grasp the concepts until one very smart teacher made us do a project (of our choosing) in which some of these complex formulae would be used. I built a bridge. Today, as an adult, I manage bridge building projects.
    • Aug 10 2011: Please take this as the tongue in cheek in which it is offered. ...

      Let me ask you this. Does 1 + 1 = 2 all the time?

      Here's a proof that 1 + 1 = 1:Let a = 1 and b = 1.Therefore a = b, by substitution.

      If two numbers are equal, then their squares are equal, too: a^2 = b^2.

      Now subtract b^2 from both sides (if an equation is true, then if you subtract the same thing from both sides, the result is also a true equation) so - a^2 - b^2 = 0.

      Now the lefthand side of the equation is a form known as "the difference of two squares" and can be factored into (a-b)*(a+b). If you don't believe me, then try multiplying it out carefully, and you will see that it's correct. So: (a-b)*(a+b) = 0.

      Now if you have an equation, you can divide both sides by the same thing, right? Let's divide by (a-b), so we get: (a-b)*(a+b) / (a-b) = 0/(a-b).

      On the lefthand side, the (a-b)/(a-b) simplifies to 1, right? and the righthand side simplifies to 0, right? So we get: 1*(a+b) = 0,

      and since 1* anything = that same anything, then we have: (a+b) = 0.

      But a = 1 and b = 1, so: 1 + 1 = 0, or 2 = 0.

      Now let's divide both sides by 2, and we get: 1 = 0.

      Then we add 1 to both sides, and we get: 1 + 1 = 1.

      But of course, the above formula is flawed. I'll let you figure it out.

      My point here is that teachers don't teach subject material, they teach people. And while they should be held accountable (whatever that means, although these days accountability seems to mean bust the union and fire their flabby butts so we can replace them with no experience, 5 week trained, unuinionized, resume padding TFA grads - but that's just my opinion), they should also be treated like professionals. If we treated doctors like we treated teachers ... oh wait, insurance companies DO treat doctors that way....
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    Aug 10 2011: Mark, may we have your permission to build a special virtual booth for your ideas and network, on WWW.NEWERAEXPO.COM? It is our very new campaign, supporting advanced education, sound independent businesses and creative arts.

    We would be glad to promote your concept. We are a non-profit 501c3 organization, Nova Town,, searching for the most inspirational workable ideas to design a fully functional futuristic community-town.

    The idea of getting students involved in actual projects of their choice, from the start to the very completion, is a superb idea for teaching, sharing, learning and even inventing (in my modest opinion).

    If young students learn how to collaborate with others while discovering and developing their best abilities, and then see the results of such collaboration as a completed working project, this should benefit not only students and teachers, but in many ways - our whole society.
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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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    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.
  • Aug 9 2011: It seems that the system of grading students had faulty beginnings and took effect eventually because of bursting immigration in the US, so the practice of grading students was a measure to aid TEACHERS, not students. Here's where I found some brief info on that
    Which leads me to this:
    Mark seeks to correct a system of evaluation that seems to cause our students more harm than good.
    What will it take to prepare TEACHERS to effectively change the way in which they evaluate and in effect teach?
  • Aug 9 2011: Just curious, but has anyone ever had any problems with the ROLE teaching system?
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      Aug 10 2011: Hi Sean,

      I cannot speak to Mark's ROLE system in particular since I'm just learning about it myself, but I have used and continue to use practical project work as learning activities for my own college students, and have noticed some definite limitations. Among them:

      * It is difficult for the instructor to see the process by which students achieve their results, which is every bit (if not more) important than the results themselves. A student who achieves an end-result with proficiency every step of the way has truly mastered an objective, whereas a student who flounders in achieving the same end-result has a long way to go before mastery. It's hard to tell this difference, though, without watching them every step of the way which is quite impractical given large classes and diverse projects.

      * Uneven individual contributions in group-based projects, leading to (sometimes) gross asymmetries in student learning, even on the same project.

      * A strong tendency for students to choose comfort over challenge: opting to stay with the familiar instead of challenging themselves to do new things in new ways. This is especially evident in the types of projects students choose for themselves, if given the choice.

      As another example, high school seniors in my state are required to create "Culminating Projects" in order to graduate. These projects are supposed to demonstrate a culmination of learning over their whole high school tenure. Some of these projects are stunning to behold, while others border on the ridiculous (a girl's fashion makeover on a friend comes to mind as a particularly egregious example). Culminating projects are a promising concept, but the practical realization leaves a lot to be desired.

      I'm really hoping Mark has some fresh insight on how to make projects really work for learning and assessment, because what I've seen in student project work is wildly inconsistent.
      • Aug 10 2011: Tony, thanks for some very thoughtful, very good critiques.
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          Aug 12 2011: Hi Michael,

          The dominant teaching technique I use is what is sometimes called an "Inverted Classroom," where students encounter new material on their own outside of formal class time, freeing up our face-to-face class time for higher-order thinking skills. It is "inverted" in the sense that traditional lecture is replaced by student research outside of class, and traditional homework is replaced by realistic problem-solving activities in the classroom. To reference Bloom's Taxonomy, the students are held personally responsible for the first two levels (acquiring knowledge and comprehension) while I coach them to achieve the others (application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation).

          As I like to tell my students, I am an extremely expensive video-player: if I were to spend most of the class time lecturing and showing PowerPoint slideshows to them -- presenting new information like an actor following a script -- we would all be wasting our time. The best use of my expertise is to closely observe how students approach complex concepts and problems, diagnosing misconceptions, and coaching students to become better thinkers, and I cannot do that from behind a lectern.

          The goal of the inverted classroom is not only to foster higher-order thinking, but it is also to encourage (and require!) autonomous learning. My students have chosen a highly technical career where continual, self-directed learning is essential for success. Anyone requiring the tutelage of an expert to learn new things -- or merely believing they do -- will stagnate in their career. Of course, autonomous learning is something we all benefit from in every aspect of life, not just in our careers, but that's a different soapbox!

          Here are some videos of our in-class interactions:

      • Aug 10 2011: Thoughtful feedback. I wonder if you could share with us your thoughts on the strengths of this system?
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          Aug 11 2011: Hi Jeffrey,Strengths I've noticed by having students do practical projects include:

          * Vastly increased student interest and engagement. Rarely if ever do you have students not engaged when they know what they're doing is "real."

          * Much broader learning, and better connection of concepts in the learning. When students must overcome the myriad of challenges faced with practical projects, they learn much more than what you might expect. Time- and resource-management is just one example. Interpersonal relations, conflict resolution, making practical compromises, and the like are some of the "soft skill" areas that get addressed quite readily in project work where the project involves multiple parties.

          I hope my earlier post did not sound too negative. There is a lot going for long-term projects in learning. My primary concern is how readily an instructor is able to *assess* student mastery from their project work. We must keep in mind that learning and assessment are two different activities, and that what might work well for one may not work well for the other. A student might very well have learned quite a lot of things by doing a project, but whether or not that student has *mastered* each of those things is another matter entirely, and it is uncertain to me whether that mastery can be truly measured by the project itself.
        • Aug 11 2011: Tony
          A great insight about mastery here. Are there other teaching methods you use in particular besides the "project"?
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    Aug 9 2011: Hi Mark,

    Much of what you say makes sense to me as a college educator, but I have lots of questions . . .

    You seem to be proposing the ROLE system for primary/secondary education. Do you see it applicable to adult education as well? My guess is "yes" but I would like to hear your direct perspective.

    I don't see a necessary tension between a performance score (grade) and narrative feedback. An aggregate letter or percentage grade by itself is practically meaningless ("What does a 'B' really represent at the end of a year?"), but scores representing performance on specific cognitive abilities are highly useful for both teacher and student, and may very well be part of a narrative feedback. Are you really saying that grades and scores of all kinds are to be abolished?

    Is it possible for a student to fail a ROLE class? If so, what are the conditions for failure?

    Do you really mean to say a student learns nothing by failing? In my experience, the letter "F" can be a powerful teaching tool. If you have tried your best to encourage a student to change their academically destructive behaviors to no avail, a failing grade can be a wake-up call. A significant number of the students I've failed have come back with markedly improved attitudes toward their own learning, most of them thanking me because it forced them to grow up.

    In my own teaching, I dearly wish I could dispense with aggregate course grades, and instead make all assessments "mastery" based (students repeat with randomized challenges until they demonstrate mastery of each outcome). I cannot do so given the state's requirement of letter grades for courses. Perhaps you and I think along similar lines here.
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      Aug 9 2011: Tony, I appreciate your perspective on this. Let me attempt to take your questions in order.

      I do see the ROLE applicable to adult education, especially when you consider that it's a complete system of education, not just a grade system. We need to have students collaborate and work on lengthy projects and self-evaluate at all levels.

      I would like to see all scores and grades eliminated at all education levels. There just isn't any use for them. I don't want to judge my students cognitive abilities with a letter (an act that I think is highly presumptuous).

      The only way to fail a ROLE class is to evaluate yourself and "give" yourself a failing grade. As my school requires letter grades, I have my students evaluate their performance and ask them to assign a grade. Some students do, occasionally, give themselves F's.

      I don't think an F is ever helpful. Students do fail at tasks, for one reason or another. This is where narrative feedback plays such an important role. The teacher explains what part of the task (learning outcome) was missed or done wrong. The student returns to the task and changes it. This is how we learn from mistakes. So, the only student who truly fails a ROLE class, in my opinion, is the one who makes mistakes but doesn't change them.

      It's refreshing to hear that someone in adult education sees the value in results-only learning.

      Thanks for chiming in.
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        Aug 9 2011: Hi Mark,I'm having trouble understanding why a score on a particular assessment might be considered presumptuous on the part of the teacher, whereas narrative feedback would not. Let's suppose a student takes a math exam on factoring, scoring 23% out of 100% on a series of factoring problems. Unless there is something wrong with the test, or with the testing conditions, I would say that student has trouble factoring. How would that be different from an instructor telling the student "You have trouble factoring"? The raw score itself might not tell you exactly what's going wrong, but it certainly leads the instructor to investigate, where close analysis of the questions missed and the student's work should reveal the problem. By analogy, just because the "Check Engine" light on your car's dashboard is vague does not mean it should be eliminated. Do we truly disagree on this point, or am I simply misunderstanding you? It seems to me the real issue is constructive feedback during the learning process versus end-of-course scores when it's too late for the student to change anything. It's not the grade that is useless as much as it is the timing of that grade and the lack of helpful action(s) taken upon it.

        Regarding "F" grades, the times when I've seen an "F" result in learning are when students were counseled repeatedly to alter their academically self-destructive behavior (failing to complete tasks on time, failing to study, substance abuse) and they did not. So it seems we agree: after you've done all you can to help a student make the best choices, the only way they are going to learn (if at all) is the hard way. It's when those students return with an improved attitude toward learning that you know the "F" actually resulted in learning.
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          Aug 9 2011: Tony, your math test example might work, except I would prefer to never give the test. Why not have the student complete a real-world project that demonstrates her understanding of factoring. Then, if there is a problem along the way, explain exactly what that is, without the punitive 23%. There's always a problem with the test. Most of the time it's multiple choice. Too often the questions and/or the choices are poorly written, and many students simply don't deal well with the pressure of tests.

          If my "check engine" light were on, I'd want a good mechanic to fix the problem. Hopefully, that would be one who had learned through trial and error how to diagnose and rectify the issue -- not one who may or may not have done well on the test.

          In my experience, students never benefit from F's. Students who get F's continue to get them, because they are simply taught that they are failures. Just as students who get A's often just know how to "play the game" and never really challenge themselves.

          Results-only learning fixes all of these problems.
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        Aug 10 2011: Hi Mark,

        You are absolutely right that many tests are poorly written and do not actually measure what they intend to. If that is the basis for comparison, then practically any alternative is preferable. What I'm having trouble seeing is how any long-term project -- no matter how well-managed -- gives the instructor a comparably detailed view of each student's problem-solving strategies and weaknesses as a well-written exam or performance demonstration.

        I say this as an educator who has his students do a lot of practical projects, both individual and group. Despite the increased levels of engagement I see with project work, I've had trouble getting consistent results. Just last week, for example, I had a team come back from an off-campus project task with wildly varying accounts of how well each one of them (as well as the team as a whole) did diagnosing a technical problem. Those students who demonstrate weak diagnostic ability when I observe them thought their own performance on this task was great. It was only because there happened to be one "strong" troubleshooter on the team who recounted for me how disjointed the other students' efforts were that I could verify things were not so. I have even had students cheat on project work, getting classmates to do portions of it for them while they claim the results as their own. These are reasons why I've given up trying to assess project work, using projects strictly as learning activities.

        I think I might gain a better perspective on ROLE if I could see one of the long-term projects in detail, especially how you are able to assess the capabilities of the individual student apart from the group. Your website says to "Watch for future posts with examples of meaningful year-long projects" which I hope means you'll be posting some soon. I'd really like to see what some of the "checkpoint goals" are and how they are measureable, especially when much of the student work happens apart from your supervision!
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          Aug 10 2011: Tony, once again, you make marvelous points and supply good examples to bear out what you say. Making a true connection may be difficult, because our worlds are quite different. I'm teaching 12-year-olds, whereas you have college students.

          One important point I'd like to address is cheating. I can honestly say that while my colleagues (traditional teachers) struggle with cheating all of the time, I never encounter a single instance of it in my ROLE. It's not because I'm such a great teacher and they're not; quite the contrary. It's about the system. My students truly love their projects, because they have choice, and they feel like they are pursuing learning for learning's sake, not for a grade.

          Although I'm uncertain it will help you much, I'll provide you with an example of one part of my Reading All Year Project. The link below is to the first grading period portion of this project. (Please note that this is still being "tweaked" for the upcoming year, so more choices will be added by me and by my students later.)

          Let me know what you think and what other questions you have, and thanks so much for adding to this fascinating debate.

          ROLE project guidelines:
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        Aug 11 2011: Mark,

        Thank you for this example. I'm going to review the details and then get back to you with questions as they arise.
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    Aug 8 2011: Jeffrey, what makes you think what I mentioned is training someone for a capitalist business model?

    By the way, the underlying cause as to why the economy crashed and stayed that way, started 30 years ago.

    So, lets prepare students by not expecting anything from them, and that will not happen again?

    Yeah right, because what happened in the 80's came from all of the former hippie free loving/dont judge me youth of the 60's who became some of the greediest capitalists ever.

    But yeah...we should repeat this cycle of expecting no more than the ability to talk, as a way to define who is educated. By the way, no matter what the idea some point...we all end up grading or judging someone in some form because human nature cannot exist without acknowledgement.

    The US economy crashing is a whole different topic of its own.
  • 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?
  • Aug 7 2011: Seth- It has not occurred to me to view, or attempt to view, K-12 public education as "liberal arts": an interesting perspective and one I'd like to hear more about. Certainly, for secondary students with access to advanced placement or "honors" coursework, I can follow the logic, but for the majority of students I don't see the connection. Further, there seems to be declining interest in access a true liberal arts education at the post-secondary level as well.
    I can't imagine any system of education proving effective in the absence of feedback for all stakeholders. It is clear that other assessment, data aggregation and communication tools exist that more effectively engage students and invigorate learning.
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    Aug 7 2011: I wanted to quickly mention that my stepson goes to an amazing high school in Middletown, NY. Forget grades, this is what they do that makes them special:

    1. They have a website and post news about the school on a daily basis, including the weather affecting the school in real-time.

    2. When a child claims to be sick, does not show up to a class, fails a test ( test), or 'has been acting odd' lately...the school calls the parent until they reach him/her.

    3. If a student starts hanging out with a new group of people that may be a problem, they call my wife.

    4. They mail those evil report card grades to the parent's business address.

    5. If he forgets to do homework one night, they call my wife and say, 'make sure he has this for tomorrow'.

    It becomes a community raising a child, even if in their pubescent state they feel they need space. The brain does not understand consequence of action until age 25 anyway, so we can deal with teenagers feeling swamped.

    When he started to slip in school, we knew from those phone calls first, and the grades validated a concern.

    What shakes me about teaching young people that they are not accountable for any type of grade-keeping, is that these lessons will carry into the workplace.

    Unfortunately, people hiring for companies check records. They check for accomplishments. They check to see who has drive and initiative. They dont like to waste time giving narratives to employees. What if teens going into adulthood expecting 'narratives' to acknowledge their accomplishments.

    I will never agree that homework is bad. It is bad enough in the US that we rank so high in confidence, and so low in math and language skills, globally. Many people are unemployed and under educated.

    How does teaching students without grading accomplish solving the above problem? I just dont think soft solutions work.
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      Aug 7 2011: Steven, as you've done throughout this thread, you raise many interesting points -- too many for me to address, most likely.

      I'll just begin by saying that I would never send a child of mine to the "amazing high school" of which you speak. Sounds to me like they churn out automatons rather than independent thinkers, who have learned how to manage themselves. In this school, it seems that Big Brother is always watching. They even pick your stepson's friends. What gives them the right?

      As far as homework, I would suggest reading Alfie Kohn's, The Homework Myth. The research there is undeniable. Kohn even quotes people in favor of homework and carefully shows how their research is faulty. I used to give homework, but after reading The Homework Myth, I've never done it again. It's that powerful. Also, I assume that if the "amazing school" supplied activities that were of interest to students, they would be completing them and phone call reminders wouldn't be necessary.

      My students "never slip." I don't need to call parents and, in essence, "tell on them" for not doing something, because they are always doing what they need to do. They complete activities and projects, because they have choice, and they see value in them. They collaborate and they explore web-based tools to augment their learning. They are not punished by useless homework or test scores. They come to value learning, not a grade.

      Finally, I don't think eliminating grades is a "soft solution." It is an idea whose time has come.

      Thanks for keeping the debate going. I value your thoughts and examples.
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          Aug 7 2011: If you google Joe Bower, Monika Hardy and Ryan Bretag, you'll find their web sites. These are teachers and a principal who practice results-only learning, though they likely don't call it that.

          Also, I'd recommend the book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, by Alfie Kohn. He has done extensive research on what I call results-only learning.

          Hope this helps.
    • Aug 8 2011: Steven,

      While you obviously get what makes a good school and provide good examples from your own experience you then go on to obviate your argument by saying that businesses don't do this. But kids are kids. They do not have the experiential or developmental tools to put business ethics into context.

      And given that the unrestrained capitalism business model as espoused by the very MBA's who have worked hard to crash the economy for their own personal benefit, is it a good idea to emulate them? At all? Ever? In any way? (or should we toss them in a cell and lose the keys?)
  • Aug 7 2011: Yes , I hate grading person by A or F , because grades don't define what student understand , or what he/she knowledge , even exams is examine them in specific area only , while might they knowledge or remember other matters in the similar subject.

    I prefer to teach them where they get wrong , and how can get better, and way encourage them to get existing about learning materials, don't just bring assignment , home quiz , and just we done and have grade over it , that will not gave benefit , they will not check where they gone wrong, but I go and ask them to go and correct them self , to learn the right things, to knowledge what is right , rather just said , they told us , you told us that so we do it.
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      Aug 7 2011: Sounds like you teach in a Results Only Learning Environment. I agree with you completely.

      Thanks for chiming in.
  • hw Tse

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    Aug 6 2011: Students should go to school to learn something for life.
    The purpose of grades is to give them a feedback about their performance. I think one problem is, that people tend to learn for grades and not for their lives.
    As a student I have to say it goes like this: teacher announces there will be a test at -insert date-and tells us what we need to know. Students relax until the last day, then they fill their brains with information, which they reproduce on a piece of paper and forget about it the next few day.Yes, there are some people who learn the right way, nothing wrong with that, but there is another problem. The value of grades are too high. Personal example: about 1 month before the final reports I could calculate my final marks and there was nothing, that would change them in a meanigful way. The result was, that I didn´t pay attention and wasn´t learning the way I should have learned.I knew it was wrong, but I couldn´t help it. Of course I was getting what the teacher was trying to teach us, but I didn´t actively participate in the class. I consider myself as a `not dumb` student, but if I imagine myself as someone who needs time to understand, i seriously wouldn´t have learnt anything during that time.
    Also, grades are only given by one person. This gives room for arbitrariness and it seems like some teachers have their preferences and prejudices (view of a student). The difference between a A- and B+ is very small and it´s being decided on comparatively small things, but these small things have such a huge impact on your future life.
    I feel like I´m being judged by the mistakes I made and not for the things I did right.
    Some people say both good and bad grades are a motivation for trying harder/keeping it up. debatable.
    But seriously. Wouldn´t it be more motivating to get a personal feedback from a teacher, who encourages you and tries to understand you?
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      Aug 7 2011: You make numerous valid points, especially when you talk about being judged by mistakes. You will learn much more, if you are shown mistakes and given a chance to improve them to show mastery learning. This is how the ROLE works.

      Thanks for your comments.
  • Aug 6 2011: Fascinating question, Mark.

    I'm a university instructor in literature, writing, and women's/gender studies. I can say wholeheartedly that I *love* teaching, and love learning from and with my students as much as trying to 'teach' them in a traditional sense. Assigning grades is probably my least favorite part of the job.

    However. I do, because

    1) schools require it

    2) the majority of students expect it, and use grades to gauge their progress, and

    3) it's common for me to have 20-40 students per class, and 4-6 classes per semester (between two or more schools, since so many college teachers are adjuncts these days) and giving narrative feedback to all is a noble goal but impossible to do. And if all students can't be assessed via results-oriented narrative feedback, you can't do so for only a fraction of them; they all expect a fair/transparent grade.

    I address this to the best of my ability, creating assingments that emphasize individual engagement and creative effort. I also supply detailed rubrics in advance of assignments so that every student can consult a detailed explanation of what's being asked.

    This is more complicated in literature and writing courses than it might be in math, of course...!

    Say students are reading Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, and Camus' The Stranger. I ask them to write a 5 page essay on the stories' protagonists' relationships to their jobs. The thesis itself is wide open, and we discuss examples in class. But the grading rubric requires, for an A, that students propose an original thesis statement, AND support that thesis with at least two specific references to each text.

    That way students know what's expected, and I have an easier way to assess and justify scores. Even if a student is ESL or makes basic grammar mistakes, I can still look to the content of their work rather than docking points purely based on superficial issues. Not a dream scenario, but workable...
    • Aug 7 2011: Elizabeth,
      In high school my favorite teacher was Dr. Martha Batten. She taught me in eleventh-grade Literature. I remember her assigning us two short pieces to read ('The Allegory of the Cave' excerpt from the Republic, and a short story by C. S. Lewis depicting a woman and child in prison, with the mother drawing pictures for her son to visualize the outside world, can't think of the title) and then expecting us to write a short essay on 'the ideas provoked by their juxtaposition.' I claimed that the circumstances facing the two sets of characters were indicative of the two different political philosophies of the authors. (The woman had once been free, and reduced to prison through her own actions. The citizens of the Cave had been in bondage since birth, i.e. Liberal v. Totalitarian) I earned the A I received. I can remember sitting in my desk as she read my paper aloud to the class as an example of excellence and feeling like I could achieve anything. Within my adolescent mental construct, I was the smartest man in the world. It was empowering.

      I am telling you this because I was reminded of Dr. Batten while reading your post and because I think this side of the story has been ignored on this thread. There are students to whom great expectations and difficult demands mean the world. There are students who thrive under pressure. There are students who need a kick in the rear as much as a guiding hand on the back. There are students for whom the system works, and has worked for decades if not centuries. Being that you are a standard-bearer to this system, I want to say 'thank you.' We appreciate more than you could ever imagine.

      • Aug 8 2011: Thanks, Seth. I was always a bookworm, so I find stories challenging and rewarding...even those I dislike! For that reason, getting a classroom full of undergrads who resent being there because it's a required course, or they don't like reading for fun, or don't like writing, or expect to be bored...well, I enjoy doing all I can to convert them.

        The key, for me, is showing them hands-on how interdisciplinary stories as a medium really are: bringing in references to history, music and art, economics, politics, religion, philosophy... as long as students find at least one connection to their own interests, they stay willing to engage. And then leaving essay topics largely open to interpretation means they can research and write according to their own passions.

        I do have to give grades...but I try to design assignments so that only the utter slackers need worry. Thanks again for the comment. PS... the stuff that gets the best student feedback lately? Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets, Amelie Nothomb's The Character of Rain, and... proudly... Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Just in case you needed suggestions for, I don't know, a late-summer beach read or something... ;)
      • Aug 8 2011: This post reminds me of this video. Taylor Mali - poet and teacher "What teachers make."

        And a great justification for the narrative feedback that Mark is espousing. Students must be treated individually and it is why I am extremely wary of so called objective multiple choice high stakes testing (also known as a good way to toss public money at private testing companies often owned by the buddies, contributors or relatives of the very politicians pushing that same testing - JMO).
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      Aug 7 2011: Elizabeth, I believe there may be cases when supplying narrative feedback is difficult. Lecture-style classes in college, for example, often have 100 or more students. I do give feedback to five classes, each with 18-28 students.

      I avoid the rubric by asking students to complete year-long projects. Each project contains a variety of learning outcomes that must be met each grading period. The students then select from a large menu of choices for demonstrating the learning. Since individuals are completing objectives at different times, I am constantly evaluating and leaving feedback. Because I'm not constantly creating lessons and activities, I have more time to leave narrative feedback.

      If part of the project were a lengthy essay, I'd be reviewing these periodically during the project, rather than waiting until 100 essays are turned in, which can be overwhelming.

      My students also complete self-evaluation and peer evaluation, which helps with assessment.

      Thanks for your insight.
      • Aug 8 2011: Thanks, Mark. Two questions -- and I apologize in advance if you've already answered these two dozen times -- what ages are the students you've personally used ROLE with, and (besides huge classes) are there any scenarios in which you think those methods might *not* be optimal...?
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          Aug 8 2011: No problem, Elizabeth. I teach 7th grade language arts. Honestly, I can't think of too many scenarios when the ROLE is not optimal. It's been a wonderful experience for me, and it's something I really believe in.

          Thanks again for your contributions.
  • Aug 6 2011: Mark, it appears that you're quite inform about education in general. Why do girls and women adapt and succeed more easily than boys and men? I heard that today's education creates frustration by repressing expression in boys and that from a very tender age. For e.g Their teachers(mostly girls) never ask to write an essay on their last gore games or what's going on in their head( a tornado tearing their house down for e.g). Moreover, boys lack the identification of model process, they can't imagine being like the she-teacher- some freudien's reasoning I believe).
    What do you think?
  • Aug 6 2011: I don't know whether you have take a close look at games on facebook, yep, those on which lot of people, mostly teenagers spend quite a lot of their free time. Why not adapting this system to education? Wouldn't it be nice to have students addicted to education- passionate about knowledge in general.

    These games have a system of experience points which you acquire when you play and you evolve in stages. For e.g adapted to an education system, a problem solved in mathematics brings 2 xp points and you need 99 xp to proceed to the next chapter( which has pre-requisite of the previous one), enabling greater comprehension. Futhermore this system is more centered on the student. Everyone has his or her own pace of learning right? Are we not satisfying everybody here. X takes 4 days to acquire 99 xp while Y took only 4 hours and Z a complete week. The teacher's role is more of a guide and he actuate his students.

    Grades are not important but skills are. For example, to allow an engineer to have your bridge constructed it is obvious that you want someone competent and who can give you this attestation? A university, right! How does this institution know that this guy or girl has the skill required to do your job?

    I'm taking too much. It all ends up to how do we know the truth about a person. Examination is a way to show the truth about his knowledge...a bad one these days, sadly. We have to find new ways to show the reality of a person.

    Thanks for reading me out.
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      Aug 6 2011: Sajjaad, I appreciate you comment. We do use games and a system like the one you mention. I'm not in favor of attaching it to grades, but it's not a bad way to evaluate skill levels, which guides instruction.

      Thanks for you contribution.
  • Aug 5 2011: in learning process, three ingrediants are there i.e. teacher,pupil and pupils environment. elimination of gradation is for what?whether it is for eliminate the environmental situatiuons or for teachers vice. I think gradation is required till the pupils atmosphere is inclined towards their future life.
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    Aug 5 2011: Yes, very much so. Students should not be held back to clusters of classes designated understandable by the specific grade level. Some students move faster than others in different areas...why hinder the development of these strengths by keeping them in lower level classes? And why rush a child ahead to challenges that are too large, because they have expended their time allotted to complete the course and grasp the material.
  • Aug 4 2011: Doesnt narrative feedback have the same potential to be subjective and arbitrary as well?

    Also how would you compare the achievement of students from different schools or even just different classes? Would not a letter grade plus justifying narrative feedback be more effective?
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      Aug 5 2011: Sean, I'm not interested in comparing schools and students, when it comes to learning. This is the problem with our education system. Why do we need to compete?

      Anything can be subjective, if it's done poorly. All letter grades are subjective.

      When detailed feedback is done right, it is the most objective form of assessment.
      • Aug 5 2011: I'm not arguing that we need to compete. I'm saying that we DO compete, not just our society or our education system but ALL societies... It is very difficult to find any examples of a competition-less community.

        Narrative mandatory feedback seems like a great idea, but in the end all grading is subjective regardless of form. Letter grades are for the most part an attempt to standardize this subjectivity. If you take that out then companies, colleges, graduate schools, and other institutions will have no "objective" means to select candidates. Of course there are many things that letter grades do NOT capture well if at all, and for these factors detailed qualitative descriptions would be ideal.

        Letter grades may miss out many important human qualities that need to be accounted for, but they seem to be a decent measure of a certain set of skills. I feel like there is a need for both kinds of evaluation in our education system.

        Obviously this doesn't consider the practicality of writing descriptions for every student especially in schools with packed classes and overburdened teachers. However I do agree that competition, natural though it is, is overemphasized and can distract students from the "joy" of learning.
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    Aug 4 2011: Hi Mark Barnes,
    I say nay.
    No, it's not time to do away with grades. You are talking about a tip of the iceberg phenomenon. Even when replaced with "meaningful narrative feedback," if we are talking about new evaluations to be applied in the current system, it just puts a band-aide on a gaping wound. Rather than debate what a good or bad band-aide that is, I'd rather persuade you that it represents an insignificant change in the system. We badly need a system that has real research support, collaboration among students, play, tinkering, individualized access, networking, etc. Basically an organic model infused with the arts and real athletics.
    Mark Hurych
    • Aug 4 2011: I think what you might not be realizing is changing the way teachers give feedback has an enormous effect on the way he or she teaches. Bottomline: changing assessment strategies (I.e. Getting rid of grades) changes the way we teach. And I think everyone can agree that we need to shift the way our students are being taught.
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        Aug 5 2011: Peter, you are right. The entire system needs to change. Eliminating grades is just a start.

        Thanks for chiming in.
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      Aug 5 2011: Mark, although the entire education system needs changing, narrative feedback over grades is much more than a Band-aid. It may be the tip of the iceberg, but the ROLE is the entire iceberg.
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        Aug 5 2011: Hi Mark Barnes
        I peeked at the ROLE idea and your clips on and I must say that much of this fits with dropping the current grading system. Results only play? --no. Results only technician job qualification? --yes. Results only dance studio? --no. Results only creativity? --not unless we count patents and grade on a curve. Results only Math? --yes, but for calculation ability only.
        I mean to say that dropping grades is a meaningful part of ROLE, but not necessarily a meaningful part of any particular concept of paradigm shift. If we go from mechanistic to organic, if we take a 180 degree different direction in redesigning an industrial age system, it may or may not come out as an adequate 21st century system.
        In short, I think HOW you assess does not matter as much as how students learn. For the kinds of changes Ken Robinson and others call for I think we need to pay much more attention to how learning happens. If a learning research group tried this and it worked, then we should build from there. My money would be on making other changes first. The real proof of any of this is not what we say here but what would happen with real students in clinical trials.
        Stubbornly yours,
        Mark Hurych
  • Aug 4 2011: My country (Romania) has a complex gradig system (or has had, they keep changing so I don't know if it is still active). At one point we had a system grading primary school kidss with Insufficient, Sufficient, Good, Very good and Exceptional. I guess it is not very diferent from the american letter grading system, but it is a less formal way of telling you how well you did. Classes 5 through 12, and college included, have a 10 maximum grade in place. Doctorates are awarded again Excellent etc. (+/- Magna cum Laudae). What I mean is that, we need some kind of way oh knowing how good we are, so one form or another of judging performance through some kind of labels.

    Indeed much of the reason for that lies in basic industrial orientation of education, and the presure it puts on students to comply to standards. so in order to change this small aspect of education, the whole of education must be given another reason to exist than to promote conformity, such as educating people for their own good, and not the one of industry (education centered on the pupil, what he likes, what he is good at, and what he needs to grow in to the man/'woman he/'she can become). Optional classes for example (at first chosen by parents based on enclinations observed in their children, then as they grow of their own will). Then for example, if the teacher says the child learned all that he needed, and the pupil agrees, he would be allowed to simply graduate (no more grades). At the end of that class, the teacher would give a description of the way the student asimilated that information, which would help as a description of the pupil's proficiency (he would be described as average, good, exceptional, plus some descriptions of relevance). Hope you like my take on your question.
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      Aug 4 2011: Sorin, I agree with most of what you say. We do need a complete overhaul of a very torn education system.

      I believe the Results Only Learning Environment does this. A ROLE promotes project-based learning, collaboration, autonomy and narrative feedback over grades. It also eliminates competition, comparison and labels like valedictorian.

      Thanks for chiming in.
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    Aug 4 2011: it seems to me that what is relevant to children going to school is learning how to do something or get an understanding about a topic (esp as they get older) not getting a grade ....there are a large number of skills that students could ask for training in which they see as relevant to where they are at the time and for which learning would be a more simple matter because of that interest .....adults push the grading system because it suits the capitalist system requiring competition for jobs and some measure to compare peoples education against others ....its not related to ability or skills except how to get a grade ...IMO
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      Aug 4 2011: Although I'm not sure that I want to turn this debate to politics, inevitably parts of it are political.

      I agree with you, though, and it has to change.
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    • Aug 4 2011: Speaking about a bizarre sense of how the world works and sub par skills, ladies and gentlemen, I present the HR department, quantifying the unquantifiable with questionable methodology since 1967.
  • Aug 3 2011: I once heard on idea that instead of grades that get averaged, give out points that accumulate. That way school will be more like a game and students will have fun seeing if they can get more points than someone else. Then students try harder to learn, seeing a cumulative result to their success, rather than having every mistake be punished with a drop in the overall average.
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      Aug 3 2011: Justin, I'm all for fun in learning, but I'm not in favor of competition. I want students to develop a love of learning, not scoring more points than a peer.

      You are right about it being better than being punished by an overall drop in percentage.

      Thanks for chiming in.
    • Aug 4 2011: Welcome to a large percentage of students who will now put all their heart, soul, and energy into figuring out how to game the system.

      Who's gonna design this system? Wall street?
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    Aug 3 2011: I read this and my immediate preconceived notion was that grades are necessary points of reference that (attempt to) speak objectively to the current performance of a given student. Immediately though, in the classic "angel on one shoulder, devil on the other" the counter-argument emerged clear as day. How can one, simple numerical representation present an accurate depiction of a student in all their complexity? And how can everything worth measuring in school be pinned down to one number or letter that will determine not only what we think they are learning now, but what we allow them to learn in the future?

    Another predisposition of mine was that grades are also a testament to work ethic and ability to follow the rules of a given system. And while this may be true our education system can do better than relying on indirect incentives (Good grades = good job = good money) to enliven our students to learn. Joseph Nye is the pioneer of a concept called "soft power." It essentially says that rather than threatening or incentivizing a society in the aim of them cooperating with you, you make them want what you want, believe what you believe. We went from a culture of stick/carrot education (teachers smacking kids with rulers AND giving them grades) to a culture of strictly carrot education, where any and everything is about incentives to succeed. I think it is time to birth a new educational culture, lets call it "soft education." Where the teachers communicate to and inform the students' most fundamental self. Where it's not about having to go to school in the morning but rather about getting to.

    Grades also serve as an intellectual segregator. First off, they do not show "how smart" a student is, only how compatible with the current education system. We need to recognize different types of learners and educate them accordingly. Feedback benefits the student (constructive criticism) and the teacher (with a sort of battle plan on how to teach a particular student.)
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    Aug 3 2011: Learning and education is about the spreading of knowledge, mastery of arts and defeat of ignorance. I fear that the current system has forgotten that.
    ( I ran out of remaining characters in my last post to make my ending statement! )
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    Aug 3 2011: Let me start out with saying that I am only a young man. I am 15 years old and I do see first hand how the educational system works and fails.
    I do believe that the current system of giving graded scores works in a sense that it states the obvious. If the student knows the information that has been taught they get a passing grade which represents that they have learned and understood their lessons. If they get a failing grade it states that they did not learn the information or understand what was supposed to be taught.
    But I believe that education is a much more complicated possess and that these grades are not enough to ensure academic sucess or even evaluate a students progress. In the school I am currently attending each student is given a numbered grade along side comments about the students academic progress or behavior, that the teacher my or may not put down. But the comments teachers are aloud to give are limited and actually selected from a small group of comments that they have laid out for them already. ( Such as, "Needs Extra Help" "Talking in Class" "Pleasure in class" "Disruptive Behavior" ect..) This is obviously because teachers are assigned many students and to give a detailed synopsis of each one would take much more time then each has to bare.
    This is where the system starts to go wrong. Giving feedback of a students progress should not be labeled "tedious work" If a student does not have the time to look into and evaluate each students progress then they have too many students.
    Education is a very personal process and should be treated as such. I agree with you Mark and I believe that grades are a way of treating education as a "procedure" when it should be treated as a delicate experience.
    This also seems to be having an effect on teachers themselves. I have first hand witnessed teachers no longer thinking of their classes and students as open minds to educate but as work and work alone.
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      Aug 3 2011: Brandon, I appreciate your contribution (I did see your ending of the post). I is very refreshing to see someone so young thinking so much about this important issue.

      Maybe if you tell your teachers about the ROLE, they will check it out. I think real reform begins with what students request.

      Thanks so much for adding your insights to the debate.
      • Aug 4 2011: Seconded. If kids and parents get involved and start demanding something it will get a LOT more attention than if teachers ask for it.

        At 15 you have more power than the powers that be want you to know about. Don't be afraid to us it for good. Now go out, put on your batman costume and do some good.
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          Aug 6 2011: Well said, Jeffrey. Let's bring down this broken system.
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    Aug 3 2011: Thanks for commenting back! The funny thing about my learning environment: I have experienced an essentially Results Only Learning environment for many years. My sister and I were homeschooled (through a combination of free classes from our school district and tutors my parents hired) for a while. When I was 5, I got to take creative writing classes with 7, 8, and 9-year-olds, an awesome experience that definitely would not happen at typical public schools. My mom also set up an afterschool program, hiring tutors to teach us at home. I got to learn about subjects usually not taught to 7-year-olds (European art history, Mexican revolutionaries, even learning about forms of government by setting up a mock dictatorship in our class which we later overthrew). :) Most of the feedback we received was narrative feedback, written or oral. We received a lot of it because, with only six kids in the class (my sister, me, and other students who attended the afterschool) it was easy for our tutors to critique us each individually.

    At the same time (and as you said, I might just be an exception) I loved the odd occasion when we were graded--getting an A++ (our tutors were pretty creative graders) that I could show my parents at dinner. Quite simply, it's easier to show off an A, than it is to quote verbatim, "The teacher said that my word choice was spectacular and that the antagonist's voice was well-utilized" although that's awesome as well.

    Giving up A's and B's also means giving up objective comparison of your performance to that of others, and I think it's kind of human nature to want to compare your work to others'. Your point about students getting turned off learning as a result of seeing themselves labeled as failures makes an excellent point. But my question is: what if a teacher can identify nothing positive in a student's work? What if their critique becomes just a painful paragraph-long F? Being hit by a barrage of criticism, no matter how constructive, hurts too
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      Aug 3 2011: Adora, not surprisingly, you've left insightful feedback again. I think you have experienced a version of the ROLE up close, and you are a wonderful example of the possibilities of this kind of progressive teaching and learning.

      I do still disagree about the grades. I think you were proud of your performance, more than you were of the A++, as I'm guessing your parents were more pleased with your work than by the letter and pluses. Also, technology makes a running stream of narrative feedback possible. My students and their parents have a constant record of feedback on their web-based grade books.

      I do love the feedback, "antagonist's voice was well-utilized," as this is the specific kind of remark that makes narrative feedback so successful. Imagine if the teacher wold have simply put an A, instead of that comment on your writing.

      Finally, I don't believe in a "paragraph-long F." Feedback should always be about the task and the performance. Unlike grades, detailed narrative feedback is not subjective. My students never get a barrage of criticism. They only get details about what they have or have not done, accompanied by further instruction on how to master the learning outcomes.

      Thanks again for contributing to this remarkable debate.
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    Aug 2 2011: I agree with you
    a student with "excellent" is not always better than student with "very good"

    how do we differentiate between student, appointment of graduates?
    how will the exams be?
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      Aug 2 2011: Like grades, I would like to eliminate exams, too, as they say very little about a student's performance and abilities.
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        Aug 2 2011: you are great ,I like that
        feedback or CV is a good management and better than exams,grades.
        but for example, appointment of graduates in a faculty, they choose the top and they are very close to each other in the level of thinking and feedback, grades do it
        so, how do you choose to appoint ??
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          Aug 2 2011: This college entrance and "appointments" has come up a few times. It is a slippery slope. I think until the entire system changes, colleges will continue to want grades and GPAs. There are more than 100 colleges in the U.S., though, that are willing to accept feedback over grades, so we may be headed in the right direction.

          Thanks for keeping the debate going.
        • Aug 3 2011: I couldn't reply to Marks last comment, but it's directed to it: Whenyou leave out grades and it comes to feedbacks and talks between the universities and the applicants, I fear it would only come to the same result which has been a fenomenon already: "It's not about what you know, but WHO you know." Or have I misunderstood the whole argument here?

          Ps. I don't care too much for grades, but do we have a reliable and applicable alternative for it?
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    Aug 2 2011: I think grades are avoidable in all schools. A single letter says nothing about performance. I understand "master" and "apprentice." I don't understand "A" or "C," because I don't know what a person did or did not do to be saddled with these irrelevant letters.
  • Aug 2 2011: Okay, so, as a teacher, I find this a difficult thread of conversation. Obviously, there needs to be accountability on the teachers. But, I've found that students are not much responsible for their own grades anymore. Parents are always quick to blame the teacher even when the teacher isn't the issue.

    I like the idea of discussion and feedback, but let me ask you. How many times did a teacher ask/tell you about your weaknesses and your strengths and you simply forget it when you move to the next class. The reason for grading is to keep the students accountable. I can't speak with a 6th grader about how to better themselves like I could a 12th grader. Not to mention, how would I keep track of the students abilities and effort? Try to remember everything said, and done, throughout the year? No dice. That would be impossible. I could document, but that's already what we do when we grade things.

    We give tests (you're supposed to at least) in order to judge the child's knowledge and thinking ability. Give a student an 'F'? He's learning to work harder. It doesn't mean he's learned nothing. Even if he doesn't care, he knows that the effort isn't there and that he CAN NOT succeed in life in that effort.

    And, as I read earlier, someone stated that teachers are there to prepare students for community life by giving them skills that they will need to survive. Life isn't about mediocrity, it's about success. And those with the better skill set are often times more likely to succeed.

    A teacher is most likely giving feedback to this student anyway. But whats the point of trying if all you're going to do is say 'tisk tisk, you should have tried harder.' It's work ethic, responsibility, accountability and understanding that sometimes, you fail and you need to work your butt off to do better next time.
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      Aug 2 2011: Taylor, it's very nice to get specific feedback from a teacher. I value everyone here, but many people have no experience in the classroom. Please consider my responses to your issues.

      First, I think you underestimate 6th graders. I know I can speak to them as easily as seniors, and in most cases the younger students will be better at self-reflection.

      Keeping track of feedback is easy. Use technology -- a classroom web site, blogs, message boards, an online grade system, etc. I leave some sort of formal narrative feedback several times weekly for all 100 of my students.

      As far as tests go, I would advise you to eliminate them. If you must give a test, use it strictly as a diagnostic tool, in order to understand what skills your students still need to master. If you test and students get F's, I'd suggest that either your instrument or your instruction are flawed or the "F students" simply do not test well. Why should they be punished for this?

      The argument that we're preparing students for a competitive society is inaccurate and overstated. Our job as educators is to help our students develop a thirst for learning and to show them how to acquire knowledge and apply it to life. If we do this well, they'll figure out the competition part on their own.

      Finally, if your feedback is "you should have tried harder," then you don't understand feedback. It should be detailed, specific and meaningful. It should explain what still needs to be mastered and ask for addition or change to the activity or project.

      You seem like a passionate teachers. I hope you'll visit I think you'll enjoy it.
  • Aug 2 2011: My point is simple take 100 students and your job is to teach them how to play golf. In the old days they leaned to play to the best of their some might have gone on to be a pro. Today you are told to make all 100 pro golfers!
    Not all are going to become a pro golfer. 100 student in a math class will not reach the highest level. When 100 students are thinking they are going to make it to the pros it is not a happy ending
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      Aug 2 2011: Joe, I certainly see your point. I'm just not sure how it relates to narrative feedback over grades.
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    Aug 2 2011: Its really high time for the grading system to have some holiday,
    there is an intense gap between the person who secures an "A" grade and a person who secures a "D" grade. even though grade "D" would make him/her pass, but still they have to struggle through out their life .
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      Aug 2 2011: Yes, and I believe the struggles will be eliminated if we supplant the D with specific narrative feedback about what still needs to be mastered. This way we can allow students to improve and master skills.

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    Aug 2 2011: I absolutely agree that narrative assessment is highly valuable if it is sincere, formative, and not "sugar-coated." There may be a tendency, regardless of the system of assessment, to "inflate" the assessment to keep everyone happy or to avoid conflict or disappointment.

    It is important to create an educational culture in which honest, constructive feedback is offered and accepted in a positive way.
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      Aug 2 2011: I appreciate your sentiments and support.
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    Aug 1 2011: Why we dont ask to the pupils instead invent answers? Why we dont let them to express their vision about the progress of education ...grades are steps in a scale but doesnt meaning advance or comprehensive learning. Maybe we have to transform the approach to education and then think if we can eliminate grades. All the stages are in the same status...from kindergarden to postdoctoral studies?....Sometimes grades are unavoidable but not in all the subjects and all the styles in all the world. Here in Italy are the same sistem from medieval ages (remember that we have the ancient University in the all world, The Bologna University.) and its so good in almost all matters with the very strict sisten in grades, and we have also the Colegio Romano in the Jesuit Company, excellen with grades, and Montessori sistem, so good too without grades. Awsome results this three examples. In the design scholls in all Italy we have no equal in the world. Ones with grades, another without. Really is not a big deal, the grades sistem. In music scholls the grades are a neccesity. In a cooking school the grades are unavoidable. In a carpentry shop the grades are in the status from master to apprentice. What is wrong with that?
  • Aug 1 2011: Mark, I agree the A-F grading system is archaic and needs revision. My wife teaches elementary school and our district has made the leap to grade on a set of standards/criteria, which has been well received. We need to change the culture and beliefs first, which is not easy. We need to shift from a system of grading, to one of Assessing. I have read your blog and like many of your ideas, keep them coming!
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    Aug 1 2011: Maybe it's time to shift the grades from the students to the teachers. Instead of assigning a number or letter to the amount that a child is actually learning, let's assign that value to how well the teacher engages and motivates his/her students.
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        Aug 1 2011: According to the book, "Freakonomics" (so grain of salt, here), when high stakes testing is tied to performance raises for teachers, assisted cheating becomes rampant! Food for thought...
    • Aug 1 2011: While grading teachers might force some accountability, what do we do with a child that simply has no interest in completing the work? Does that indicate a liability with the teacher? I believe that different teachers grade differently...some teachers expect more than others and some students expect more from teachers. How do we find an acceptable way of measuring learning and is that REALLY what we want to measure? If so, the grading rubric needs a complete overhaul.
    • Aug 2 2011: It is not time to shift the grades to the teacher but time to shift back to the student. Do we make Drs go out and make people come into the office for a check up.Why did the system work for older adults? They went to school to learn!
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    Aug 1 2011: Now education is meant to lead and guide young people towards the working world, in which competition rules everywhere. So what about having a gradual system with no grades for the yougest pupils, then at the other en of secondary education some sort of grade system, that could go on evolving through further education, thus avoiding a shock when going into work and finding the bar too high and the pay too low?
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      Aug 1 2011: Although I certainly understand the competitive world we live in, I still don't want competition in the classroom. I think we can much better prepare our students for life after school with meaningful narrative feedback.

      I don't think feedback in any way translates to a student finding the bar to high in the work place. In fact, I think students receiving feedback will be much better prepared for the job place.

      Thanks for contributing.
    • Aug 1 2011: Elisabeth
      Ok, is the purpose of education to "lead people to a working world" or just to produce people who are educated? By educated I do mean, someone who has a well rounded knowledge of the world and how it works. While I agree everyone needs to lead a productive adult life, shouldn't education be more than "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

      After reading and looking at this conversation I am even more convinced that that is what needs to change: our philosophy of why we are education children in the first place. Mark makes some good points on his grade obsession, and evaluations can be done differently, but why we educate children in the first place needs to be examined.
  • Aug 1 2011: No Brasil, percebe-se a mesma situação... embora aqui não sejam com letras, mas com valores (0 a 10). Concordo que estejamos num tempo onde as notas não provam nada, embora ainda sejam levadas em consideração em todas as instâncias educacionais... Tem gente "se matando" pra tirar um 10, e gente com uma facilidade incrível de aprender e que na hora da prova tira 5...
    Todo mundo precisa pensar, discutir, rever e debater sobre a real necessidade de manter notas em nossas instituições.
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      Aug 1 2011: Obrigado por pesando sobre o assunto. Você está certo, os números são como cartas, e como você explicar, causa os mesmos danos. Esperemos que, pessoas como você vai levar a carga em seu país para obter este sistema eliminados. Obrigado mais uma vez.
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    Aug 1 2011: after reading the comments, i came to a conclusion that we should give grades to teachers instead of students.
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      Aug 1 2011: Sadly, since so many use archaic methods, we'd have to grade them an F. In all fairness I'd prefer to give them meaningful narrative feedback, too.

      Thanks for chiming in.
  • Jul 31 2011: Makes no sense, give him a grade and explain why he earned that particular grade.. All covered, everyone happy.
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      Jul 31 2011: The grade is superfluous, and meaningless. Plus, we give them three or four times yearly. I supply feedback every day.

      I'm not trying to make everyone happy. I'm trying to provide the best learning opportunities for my students.
  • Jul 31 2011: Grades are simple measurements of ones comprehension of a subject. Grades are like tools, neither good nor bad when used for evaluative purposes.

    Our problem is not grades but that lack of action upon receiving bad grades.

    Go to the problem and not the indicator of the problem.
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      Jul 31 2011: Bob, I couldn't disagree more. If there is no "bad" grade, then I don't have to fix it.

      If I give your comment an F, how would you know what to do, if indeed this were an activity?

      Rather than grading you with any sort of letter, I'd much prefer to tell you that providing narrative feedback that specifically explains what learning outcomes were or were not mastered helps students learn, where grades do not.

      There is no place for measurements in education.
  • Jul 31 2011: Yes, we're all on our own journey, we need to tailor and feed our own interests until they are feed, then move on without competition and without thinking any two students need the same starting and stopping place. bravo
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      Jul 31 2011: Hear, hear. Thanks for chiming in on this.
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    Jul 31 2011: I agree that there are an unlimited number of ways to provide feedback, but assessment provides much more information than simply how a student is doing on an individual student and situation basis. In the school setting, it must keep a history of how the student is performing to identify trends in learning. Assessments provide feedback about the course, the teacher, the curriculum, and a wide array of other things that go beyond simply one student at one time in one class.

    I am with you in that narrative feedback should *also* be used in conjunction with grades and other objective and transferable feedback mechanisms. Narrative feedback is essential to help the student understand where they do well, where they can improve, and how to explore other learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom, and should be used every time any other type of feedback is given to a student. However, the narrative approach is not a substitute for more objective and comparable modes of feedback because they serve different purposes than simply informing the student. Even if the student never knows what his or her grade is--or even knows that anything like a grade is documented--some mechanism is still going to have to fulfill the other types of feedback and assessment required that do not center on the student alone.

    In truth, I am a fan of narrative methods including the CIQ and the like because they provide me feedback on what I am doing well and were I need to improve in the eyes of the learners, but I still have to document some sort of progress in a way that can be statistically analyzed and used to improve the curriculum, teacher education, school administration, and such. There is no silver bullet type of assessment that fits all situations and needs so well that it can be used exclusively and in isolation, that is really the point of considering the external reasons for a grading structure.
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      Jul 31 2011: Philip, I'm not sure what "more objective and transferable feedback mechanisms" are. Numerous people here have used the "more objective" phrase, incorrectly.

      Narrative feedback is not subjective. In fact, it is far more objective than grades. People believe grades are objective, because often they are composed of numbers (test scores). If students score 95/100, they get an A. The problem is the instrument used to test the students is in all likelihood not objective. Who is to say one student might just test better than another. Who is to say many students don't simply guess right on the test?

      Narrative feedback is objective, because students are given learning outcomes, prior to any activity or project. They are told specifically what they did or did not do upon completion. There is nothing subjective about this.

      The "silver bullet" of assessment, in my opinion, is formative, rather than summative. It is ongoing, two-way, verbal and written feedback. It's not tests and it's not numbers and letters.

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
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        Aug 1 2011: I use similar methods in my classroom, Mark, and agree. Plus formative assessment, especially two-way gives students a chance to self-reflect. Much needed for individual development and for growing independent and empowered learners.
      • Aug 2 2011: Yes, Mark I have to agree that the objective/subjective thing is really well somewhat misplaced. I know I could write a test no one in the class could pass. Is that objectively saying everyone failed? Essay questions are not subjective at all and demand a great deal from students. It is how we deal with the results of assessment that you are trying to get at right?
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          Aug 2 2011: I think you're right about assessment, Michael. This is why I like the term, Results Only Learning Environment.

          Thanks for chiming in.
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    Jul 31 2011: This sounds like a fundamental confusion about the purpose of grades as an objective rather than a measure of an outcome. Any measure--including grades--fails to be useful the moment it becomes the objective instead of indicating some facet of the objective. Dan Pink and others you note in responses collectively indicate that incentives as objective are the problem, and grades should not be an incentive per se. They never say anything about not measuring the ability of a person to meet objectives and providing feedback. Indeed, they would all tell you that frequent, meaningful feedback is specifically necessary for an individual to achieve mastery.

    However, I am interested to know what your alternative is to assess the learning level of the student, his or her success in meeting the objectives of the course, and ability of the teacher to facilitate successful learning, without a common feedback mechanism such as grades. How would you document the "narrative feedback" in a way that facilitates continuity and comparison from student to student, and across the range of curricula? If it is truly a results-only approach as indicated by the tags, then it is a pass/fail mode like results-only work that requires objectives to be met--including deadlines--regardless of the amount of work the individual has to apply. What would the deliverables be and how would they be assessed?
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      Jul 31 2011: Philip, you offer some interesting insights. However, I believe you confuse the assessment issue. Narrative feedback is assessment. It is ongoing formative assessment. The feedback also serves as documentation of what students have done with learning outcomes. It does not serve to compare students, as no comparison is needed. Why should one student be designated as a better learner than another, especially when we all learn in different ways?

      If administrators were willing to reduce grades to pass/fail, over letters, I'd be fine with that; all my students would pass. The result is the mastery of learning outcomes. This comes over time. Students work on year-long projects with many learning outcomes. Along the way, I provide feedback. Sometimes that requires them to do something else to demonstrate mastery. They do that, and the feedback changes.

      Hope this helps.

      Thanks for weighing in.
    • Jul 31 2011: Just a short reply: the idea i have in mind, is to set up competence levels and then assess the students on their way to achieve them, giving them feed-back and guiding them to self-reflect what works out well and what doesn't.
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    Jul 30 2011: Marks and grades were taken in effect to ease decision making of the teachers of higher study to find compatibility of any student or and graduate to be evaluated on the bases of Marks or grades to induct in any organization. But change is natural and everything repeats, now we are tired with these marks and grades so again the performance of any individual in any discipline with count more to get job or projects! there is nothing good or bad what you are comfortable with, do it or leave it. Do not blame system!
  • Jul 30 2011: Well, from a country like India, a great chunk of students are expected to rote their courses and just blindly present the same in the answer sheets. And, of course, students end up being graded for how well they could 'copy and paste'. A TED talk by Salman Khan was very inspiring. He mentioned that while we learnt anything practical like riding a bicycle, we don't grade after a point and move onto something tougher like, for example, a unicycle. We master our skills on the bicycle first. Similarly, grading students after every few months to see how he is performing only adds pressure. And promoting a student with, lets say a C grade, to a higher class seems foolish because unless one has mastered a concept, how do you expect him to do better in its next level? A learning revolution is required for sure but just a few ideas won't make a revolution. We need action, acceptance and participation. Grades don't do any more good than making you conscious of where you stand. More preference should be given to understanding the concepts and learning that's important in a particular field.
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    Jul 30 2011: I went to a Rudolf Steiner school back in the day and we got exclusively narrative feedback rather than grades. The experience has been entirely positive. However, the transition to universities when our feedback had to be transcribed through a commitee into grades, in order to establish a point value to compete in admission, has been frustrating at times, as I do not know my "academic value" as such, even to this day.
    What I do know the value of, however, is to get a proper evaluation of where you stand in each subject at school, with constructive commentary provided by the teacher, so you know exactly where your strengths lie and what you should focus on improving. One may argue that this type of feedback is just as subjective as a grade to a certain extent, but personally I think the value is much, much greater. People can actually get to know me by reading my feedback papers. I sincerely doubt you can get that much information from a grade sheet.
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      Jul 30 2011: Thanks a million for this, Daniel. Can you post information, web link, about/to Rudolf Steiner?
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        Jul 30 2011: Mark,
        There's lots of information about the Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf schools on wikipedia:

        From a random site I found this information:
        "There is no conventional grading system at Waldorf schools. Reports are based on detailed characteristics which describe achievement progress, diligence and students' special skills."

        I tried to locate more specific information on the reports given to pupils at the end of every school year, but that's what I can find in English at the moment...
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    Jul 30 2011: Winston Churchill once said "The most important thing about education is appetite." But is this is not the case in the world right now especially in the developing world. The current education system effectively strips the joy from education . Most students are not motivated if they don't get a grade or certificate out of it.
    I don't think grades are motivating factor for proper learning. Most motivated by grades are motivated understand the subject well. But on impressing their parents, friends and being above other Peron in the rank. Grades will be good if they measure true understanding ,mastery. But usually they measure conformity, how well you have blind memorized fact formulas steps, how well of crammed things in your short memory.
    But in our world people measure and judge you by your grades. And it seems grades are not going to be eliminated in the short run. students need a great deal of inner strength to the withstand the pressure from every body to get higher grades and focus on real learning. And how are we going to protect this students.
    And finally how can I be a member of International Society for Technology in Education.
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      Jul 30 2011: Spot on, Bemnet. It takes people like you and others in this discussion to spread the word and begin this reform movement.

  • Jul 30 2011: Wonderful arguments Mark. As a passionate advocate of learning, I am completely dismayed by our education system. From the organizational structure creating corporation-like management hierarchies, to teachers with insufficient understanding of learning disabilities or classroom management, to the overall struggle with time constraints that crush creativity and the expansion of ideas.

    There is so much more to life.

    @ Birda, "The bigger problem is that when the average teachers are confronted with smart and talented kids, these kids can intrinsically recognize excellence and usually the 'average' simply doesn't cut it for them; many teachers tend to get intimidated by them and then start naming them with negative terms while manipulating them in subtle ways as an attempt to keep them under control so that the teachers' egos are safe".

    I totally agree, it's my opinion, these problems are intrinsic to our closed education model, but we must also include the equally destructive and eroding force of parental "cliques" that are encouraged by the ego and grading systems.

    I like the portfolio idea.

    @Mark, "I love your term, "ego-taming." I agree completely that getting students involved in self-reflection and evaluating one another is critical to 21st-century learning". This is a method I use to track my child's "real" learning. Self reflection of personal motivation is as critical as learning as opportunities for the child to honestly admit that they do not understand the material as presented.

    Unfortunately, our schools have become social gymnasiums, housing too many children, distracted by personal or family issues, undiagnosed learning difficulties, polarized, paralyzed and engulfed by pop culture. I can't believe teachers were ever meant to fill so many roles. Parents must help, but we must have the flexibility to help even if that means taking our child out of the conventional classroom to refocus the child's efforts and energy.
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      Jul 30 2011: Deb, I appreciate your passion and what I perceive to be the same kinds of frustrations that I have.

      I can't take credit for "ego-taming." Someone else in this discussion used it first. I like it too, though.

      Thanks for contributing.
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    Jul 29 2011: I think you are talking about the nature of education and the way it has been driven by assessment.

    The systems, methods of gathering, and purpose of assessment data are still stuck in the past. This is what is really preventing Sir Ken's "paradigm shift".

    An alternative is to teach children about learning. Make it explicit. Expect high standards. Have them 'grade' themselves. Think about "added value" rather than achieving a set value (who set it to what end?). Child-driven.

    When it comes to keeping standards up, individual professions, jobs, vocations, sectors, whatever, should set the legal and professional standards they require of new recruits and that's the "grade" you have to make to follow your career, etc.

    This would remove the need for schools to have a national-standard form of assessment and enable teaching to be done in more immediate and meaningful ways.
  • Jul 29 2011: I think that what you have here is a good idea, as the reality is an outdated system that is convenient perhaps for teachers and is very impersonal, as you say personal feedback would be a better approach I also like the suggestions by Chan as well.
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      Jul 29 2011: Hey Rodger, thanks for weighing in on this. What we need is for people like you to spread the word in the education profession. Whenever you can talk about it, write about it, etc., be sure to do so. Let's tell administrators and bureaucrats that we want real education reform.
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    Jul 29 2011: I would suggest that assessment needs to take place for the sake of competency but whether or not grades is how we do that I am not sure.

    In my opinion I think education was best when there was a master and an apprentice because there was a practicality that produced something that was a concrete example of knowledge and understanding.

    The downside of grades is it is not a concrete example of knowledge and understanding due to the variables surrounding them. On the upside grades overall may give you an indication of someone's aptitude for learning in general or in broad fields.
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      Jul 29 2011: Not to be flip, but if I said your comment gets a C, would this reflect your aptitude?

      Hate terms "master" and "apprentice." The Results Only Learning Environment is a learning community. I may be a coach or a mentor, but I'm certainly not a master.

      Thanks for joining the debate.
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        Jul 30 2011: Since my using those terms were in reference to the past where those terms were used, I don't see anything wrong with them. However, I respect your point good sir; if I were engaged in discussion regarding that type of relationship now I would use coach or mentor. Thank you for pointing it out though.
  • Jul 29 2011: Grades hold assumed value like paper currency. Grades only matter if you assign value to humans based on how intelligent they are. But often grades do not measure intelligence. Wierd. How many of you have taken an IQ test and take personal pride in how high your score was? This is the archaic mentality that Barnes is talking about. That's what I think.
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      Jul 29 2011: Great point about IQ, Victoria. I agree. I know people with very high IQs who are very poor thinkers, just as many straight A students aren't nearly as innovative as C students. Thus, the problem with both of these measures.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.
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    Jul 29 2011: Grades are just a representation of how well (if) a student has learnt something. All alumni need a rating of their performance in order to make academic distinctions between success and failure, and also to encourage improvement. That the current rating system is generic, poor, and just bad I can agree with, if it were for me I'd change it into something more detailed, insightful, and not just based on a simple number score.

    The problem isn't the grades, though, it's the whole education system.
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    Jul 29 2011: I don't like this system at all, and I wouldn't recommend grades either. Both systems are archaic and useless.
  • Jul 29 2011: :-) If you are questioning the Grade system (A , B , C etc).
    I wonder what the Indian ranking system should be done. Since In India, they give Percentage of Marks to 100.

    Like the very book eater will gain around 90 to 100% - Making him the Only one for a chance to attend 100 % of the Employment Interview calls world wide.
    For a person getting around 60 to 70% in the Degree - Could be restricted to attend the Interview itself by 30 % of the Employment providing Companies (which are off course the high profile companies)

    Actually In India, 95% of the students just eat the Syllabus/books - just to attain high %. NOT really to gain Real Knowledge.

    The Students of India will be happy if the % / number ranking system ( 1 - 100) is removed and a Grade system is implemented.

    And I think the Engineering studies - needs the Grade system. Where as the Art studies should be considered by other.
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    Jul 29 2011: I have not seen people with top most grades ending up at most of the jobs. Those people are in academia or maybe specialized fields like software development. I have seen many successful stories where these professionals did not acquire excellent grades in school. I believe with narrative feedback and action plans from improvement, students will be able to be make most of their potentials. They also needs to be a flexible structure in learning experiences to facilitate the implementation of such systems and feedback exercises.
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      Jul 29 2011: Thanks so much for contributing. I appreciate your comments and I couldn't agree more.
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    Jul 29 2011: Should we grade teachers?

    One of the best teachers I've ever had is a poet by the name of David Whyte. He continues to teach me to this day. He tells a story about his English teacher at a public (private) boarding school in England when he was in school. I'll try my best to re-tell it here.

    This teacher of his was so unpredictable, so potentially explosive ( in a good way) that no one ever wanted to miss a class of his. One day as the students were filing into the classroom for a lesson, the teacher walked over to one of the more unruly students and, with two hands, lifted him up by his coat lapels and pulled him close to his face. The other students were astonished by this and became quiet, waiting to see what would come next.

    The teacher looked at the student and said in a grave voice, "someday someone will hate you, just because of the cut of your face. And there will be nothing you can do about it. Nothing!" After a moment he slowly let the student slide back down into his seat and walked to the front of the classroom. He then said to the class, "now let's learn about the tragedy that was McBeth".

    His point was that to learn something - really learn something - the teacher must make it real. Must make the student understand that what they are learning will have impact on their lives. Otherwise it's just academic. McBeth is just a story told in old English by a long-dead bard until you can connect the story directly to the student's life. You can argue that all education is experientialcand I would be inclined to agree with you! At least it should be.
  • Jul 28 2011: Sorry, hopefully that comment went in the right place.
    It's hard to express what I have in mind in a text box, because it is very visual. I think graphs should show progress (electronic data per request) and a student's evaluation would be broken down into these potential categories. I think that the chart that can expand and show their history/progress of each category over time would be helpful. The way students are evaluated should be based off some rubric so the evaluation can be read easily, but those reading the evaluation can get a more detailed explanation.

    Leadership Skills: Meets Requirements
    Professionalism: Proficient
    Problem Solving: At Level
    Traditional Grades: Physics A | Math B+ | Health A+ | etc.

    also there could be parts of the portfolio that parallel what would be seen on a resume.

    Community Work:
    Work Experience:

    But, perhaps I am getting carried away. I just think that with how technology is going that students are eventually and should get a multi-dimensional profile. It should better represent them and it should be something they can refer to and be proud of and want to continue developing.

    Sorry, I really wish I could give a better example, but this is the gist of it. Let me know what you think or what you would do.
  • Jul 28 2011: I think this is a natural extension of ideas about the kind of economy we are preparing students for. Lots of data shows that the carrot-stick method of learning does not work well for situations that require a high-degree of creative thinking, and inherently causes people to focus on the shortest and most obvious path to a solution while locking out the bigger picture. So the question is: Are any classes these days sufficiently lacking in a creativity to the point where a carrot-stick method is desirable? If so, should we change that? If not, why are we using the wrong learning reinforcement tool? What is the better one we should use? To see this topic in the light I'm suggesting think about this TED talk:
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      Jul 28 2011: Thanks for weighing in on this, Tim. I love Daniel Pink and quote him often in my book.
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    Jul 28 2011: Most certainly yes. Narrative feedback thumbs up!
  • Jul 28 2011: well,actually it's good to have grades and competition in a way beacuse that helps us to excel...certainly, the desire to excel must come from within,but some traditions can't be broken down in the blink of an eye.
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      Jul 28 2011: Not in the "blink of an eye," Timisha. Hopefully this transformation can happen in a decade or less, though. All we need is solidarity among teachers.
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    Jul 28 2011: Being graded and grades play an important role in our capitalist society, it cultivates competition and the strive for being better, which whenever the child grows up this attribute is translated into innovation, who can come up with the best idea..however this doesnt make it right, because there also psychological downfalls for many people who cannot be the "best" or get the best grade for whatever reason, be it they just aren't interested or this type of learning structure doesn't suit them. But i think the alleviation of this problem, or maybe solution, lies within the teacher and their teaching methods.
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      Jul 28 2011: I think getting good grades is more about memorization than innovation; conformity rather than ingenuity. Not always though, and you need a balance of these things. People are competitive enough without it being taught. I think co-operation is needed more. I don't think the solution has anything to do with the teacher or teaching methods............just kidding ;) Your right there.
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      Jul 28 2011: It has everything to do with methods. Unfortunately, current methods are archaic and lead to rote memorization and little creativity. We need results-only learning -- year-long projects, collaboration, self-evaluation, autonomy and narrative feedback over grades.

      I'm certainly not interested in creating competition between my students. The deleterious effects of competition are far too many to list here.

      Thanks for keeping the debate going.
  • Jul 28 2011: well grades are pretty much necessary in a educational system.....jus to keep the children motivated,.,,,,if der wer no grades then wat would the kid who wrks hard would wrk fr??? its nt lik kids study to boast abt themselves hw much they knw.... most often it is the grades that they try to achieve..... n the kids nt gud at studies would bcme vry much more negligent towards studies.... its nt the grades to b removed.... bt the seriousness attached to it !!
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      Jul 28 2011: this is conditioning, important to motivating work force or students, I agree
      but to take it seriously is not totally good for people.
      depression might arise when trying to achieve goals they don't know how to grasp
      what if the person has different approach, or came up with different/newer ideas
      "you don't know still, you follow until you're qualified"...... is what said if not perceived correctly by lecturers
      by that, this creates followers
      I can't doubt, current technology is not sufficient, but would you tell if it couldn't have been better?
      to me, better is in alternatives (more alternatives, the better things get)
      aside, grades on the process of retaining certain information
      eventually, will be either updated or eliminated
      I see, it's time for education to change from know these you'll pass, into a system that targets building logic
      by such no matter what the environments' inputs were, success is guaranteed for people that have the logic to how to deal with different inputs, processing them targeting desired output
      I think
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      Jul 28 2011: Hmm., interesting takes here. Let me begin by saying that grades are not motivators at all. In fact, most students do not work hard because of grades. They are conditioned very early that they are failures, no matter how hard they try, because they've been beaten by poor grades.

      What we want in education is to create lifelong learners. In order to do this, we have to get students to develop a thirst for learning. We can't do this by constantly beating them down with bad activities, followed up by D's and F's. If you work hard on something, and your teacher tells you it's bad, you won't want to continue working on it. In most cases, you'll just quit.

      Results-only learning provides constant narrative feedback that discusses what's good about an activity and what needs improvement. Follow-up teaching is done and students return to the activity and add to it or change it to demonstrate mastery. When they get the final feedback that says, "Now you've mastered this learning outcome," suddenly they feel good about learning, and they want to learn more.
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    Jul 28 2011: Agreed. It is blind adherence to assessment systems that have held the education sector back. But you are talking about shaking the system up radically and the bureaucrats will hate that.

    Bureaucrats need percentages and bell-curves that look neat and can be graphed to show how awesome they are at their "job". Especially when it is tied to government (the peoples') money!
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      Jul 28 2011: I agree Scott, but we can't sit idly by and do nothing because of a broken bureaucratic system. It's time for teachers to stop allowing non-educators to make decisions about how we educate the world's students. Not to sound arrogant, but teachers know best how this is done, not people like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan -- both of whom are NOT teachers.

      As evidenced by this remarkable debate, most people believe in results-only learning, even if they never knew the term prior to coming to this site. People believe, for the most part, that grades don't work. Standardized testing is an awful way to evaluate performance. Traditional methods like worksheets and homework are useless.

      So, if the majority of teachers know this, I say it's time we change it. This is what the Results Only Learning Environment does. I didn't ask for permission to dramatically change teaching and learning in my classroom. I just did it, and the results were amazing. Then, I started a blog about it, wrote a book on the subject, began presenting on it and started debates like this, hoping to create a movement.

      With the help of people like you and others on this site, we can revolutionize education, with or without the help of the bureaucrats.

      Thanks for getting me on my soapbox. Sometimes I need to vent a little.
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        Jul 28 2011: Vent away - hopefully more and more people will listen.

        I've seen the same (as a teacher) in parents who only really want to know a score out of 100 and then usually only in maths, reading and writing. Sigh.

        Take heart - there are good people working in the job and the change has already begun.

        Keep busting out your soapbox.
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          Jul 28 2011: You know I will. I appreciate the support.
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        Jul 29 2011: Take a look at this blogger. She is an inspired educator who advocates for teachers being intricately involved in changing the educational system.
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          Jul 29 2011: Thanks, Jim. I'll check her out.
  • Jul 28 2011: I think the problem is not in grading itself, but in the methods how we evaluate students.

    Taking exams is an efficient way to evaluate students and give them gradings, but it can only find whether he/she memorized the stuffs, I think. Short time period, many questions... Sometimes I feel that I'm just learning how to choose answers and memorize stuffs.

    Instead of exams, we can do something else such as essays, experiments, presentations, group activities, and so on. What about increasing the ratio of these activities in gradings?(for example 65% activities and 35% exams - about three to one) Eliminating exams will be a really hard work for now because we've been taking exams for many many years. However, we can gradually decrease the ratio of exams, and increase the ratio of other grading methods.

    Quick actions can cause problems that we couldn't see before the change. When the new problems come up, we cannot easily deal with it, and also we cannot restore the system. Then our efforts will go fruitless. I think we have enough time to find the real problem and find the way to solve it. We must be calm when dealing with the education system, because education is a long range-project. We have to consider many factors, and you know this!

    I think what we need is a compromising attitude. Thanks!

    I have seen many students be disappointed at themselves after got 'F'... and I have failed too. 'Fail' can be a really heavy burden for students. It discourages them and gives too much stress... we should reform this first.
    How could we encourage students to learn and make them happy? I think this is what we're looking for..
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      Jul 28 2011: While I too feel like exams encourage cramming and robotic learning, it's still one of the easiest ways to assess learning. Multiple-choice tests are the easiest to administer, and are one of the most counterproductive- just guessing on the ones you don't know doesn't tell the student or the teacher what skills need to be further explained.

      I think essays and short-answer tests are the most important tools for educators. They are, however, more time consuming to grade. I like experiments as a part of the grade because it helps foster a sense of reality in the learning experience. Some teachers in my high school, when dealing with Laboratory grades, would deduct points off a student's Lab grade if their experiment produced too high a percent error.

      My problem with including things like presentations and group activities in the grade is that they can become too subjective, especially when all students have an ample time to prepare. While public speaking and presentation are important in real world job markets, I hate to think a student who possesses a mastery of the subject would loose standing in an academic class, not because her theory or application or understanding was wrong, but because she failed to dazzle her audience. Some schools integrate "Leadership" classes to help students become more outspoken and assertive. While I'm sure they make great tools in encouraging students to grasp the material, it doesn't help much in ranking them.
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        Jul 28 2011: The use of group work is interesting. With a group project you can't know who was the brains and who just signed their name to it. But group work and the ability to collaborate is important, so maybe it has a place. My instinct though is that it's not workable and we'd be straying from the purpose of assessing academic ability. Keep tests of individual ability and group ability separate. I think feedback notes would be much better than a grade when reporting on someones group work, but a year or so down the line, no-one would be interested in these notes - only fresh notes. Only the grade for individual work would last. Employers always ask for grades, even if you got them decades ago - this needs to change too.
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      Jul 28 2011: JaeYong, when you say "I think we should reform this first", referring to students getting Fs and being discouraged, what do you mean?

      Though I agree that students should be evaluated using a variety of tasks, I see some unexplained contradiction in your argument. What is so different if you get an F on your essay or presentation and if you get an F on your exam? The fact that one is more subjective of the teacher than the other? But how does that affect the students?

      In any way, every kind of grading system would not be perfect when it is universally employed. And I think that the real problem is not about the ratio of exams to other grading methods, but the lack of integrity and fervor of teachers in educating the students and their reluctance to mentor each individual with special attention. I have repeatedly mentioned that there are exceptions, some great teachers out there who have been true source of inspiration for some, and what we need is an increasing number of these "exceptional" teachers who will not abuse the grading system, (whether it's percentages, letters, or narrative feedbacks) and use it with care to nurture the students.
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        Jul 29 2011: Hi. You're right that a great teacher is what we really want, but I hear a lot of blame put on teachers, when I think it's the system that's more at fault. A good system and ROLE type principles take the pressure off the teacher to be this all inspiring surperhero. They just need to be honest with the students, and the students have to understand that they, not the teacher, have to do the work. Then the teacher has time to monitor and handle problems with individuals. Students can learn for themselves once they get the idea. Then they're not at the mercy of fate, where a lucky few get an exceptional teacher, but most do not. It just occurred to me, that what we traditionally think of as an exceptional teacher, might do more harm in some cases as they create a dependence, and the student, once in a different class will always blame the new teacher for not being as good, rather than taking responsibility for their learning.
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          Jul 30 2011: Hi Ian.
          I did not elaborate enough on my response because I had written a separate answer of my own before. I do believe that the system is more at fault as well. In fact, I believe there needs to be an entirely new system for educating the teachers to advocate innovative learning, because frankly, I think the system of educating students is already overwhelmingly programmed while the system for teachers is underdeveloped.

          Of course students should take the responsibility and put in their best efforts in learning. But as it has been mentioned numerously throughout the course of discussion, they are often discouraged due to the current grading system accepted and used by the teachers. Not many teachers know much about customized education due to the lack of "good system" you've mentioned, and ultimately, the teachers do their job in giving students the grades that they deserve, but without instigating them to do better. They are often brutally honest, but with no hint of encouragement.

          Eventually, when a student gets an F, the blame is on the student. He's the one who failed. He's the one who didn't study. But we know there are many students who are not as motivated as the other, who need a stronger lead and push from the teachers, and I think it's important that we put a little more focus on the part of the teachers as this discussion board has decided to do.
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        Jul 30 2011: Yes, like you say, brutal honesty is seldom useful, and probably given more often out of anger or spite than a desire to educate. A teacher with good personal skills, who can relate well to students is obviously better. I think most teachers are willing, but get jaded, and lose their idealism in the day to day grind. I didn't do traditional teacher training; I trained to teach English as a foreign language, and then got on the job training. I decided against mainstream school teaching because I disagreed with the methods so much. I think the 9 mth training course would have been largely a waste of time. I worked for the UK government a few years back, and one of the focal points of the management training was about giving effective feedback - it's a universal need. As has been mentioned, but is perhaps worth reiterating, there's not one kind of teacher: each teacher should express themselves as a means to inspire others. Whatever training we give teachers, I think it should be fairly straightforward, so as to instil important basics, like good feedback, but without constraining the natural behaviour and style of each teacher. We want diversity in our teachers, just as we want it in students - that's what I think anyway.
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          Jul 31 2011: Hi Ian. Firstly, I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and expanding my view.

          I think what you're saying is all true. I think most teachers lose their initial passion or vision because it's so difficult to challenge the mainstream teaching system. I also think some of these teachers who are willing, just simply don't know what to do. They want to encourage students to do better; they want to promote a new learning program. They just don't know where to begin. And I think that's where our system has failed. They have failed to widely accept innovative teaching methods, and consequently, failed to let the teachers have autonomy over creating unique teaching styles. I think the education system is now slowly beginning to adjust to the diversity of students' abilities; but at the same time, they should also consider, as you have said, the diversity of teaching styles. The current imbalance of the two systems, one for students and the other for teachers, needs to be eliminated in order to promote an "education for all."

          I'm entering college this fall. I've had to take a gap year to work and earn the money first, because education, particularly for international students like me, is ridiculously expensive. I'm lucky to have found a school that was willing to support me for the most part, but there are so many of us out there, who are paying an exorbitant sum of money for education. And maybe that is why I feel so critical towards teachers who do not "try their best." But then again, this is only coming from a biased perspective of a student, who has always wondered "is education (more specifically, schooling) really worth all this money and struggle?" I sincerely hope I will be able to study with some inspirational teachers who can help me self-discover and self-develop.
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      Jul 28 2011: If you want to embrace the idea of failed students, you'd better keep your penitentiary system well funded and don't complain about crime rates and other social problems caused by illiteracy and despondency. Let's keep education as a right, not a privilege. Let's give alternatives to academic success, such as practical apprenticeships, so no-one has to fail. Some will fail whatever we do, but I think we should take responsibily to minimise it. Your social evolution sounds like elitism; I think we could evolve in a better, more inclusive direction, although it's not easy.
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      Jul 28 2011: Jake, I do agree that the grading system, in its essence, is necessary in education. But I think what we're looking for here are different mechanisms of evalution where students, particularly those who often "fail", can be most helped. It has been clearly shown that the current grading system often discourages students, when they should be inspired to do better. And as Ian has suggested, I think it's time that we made education a right for everyone, a system of nurturing students into responsible individuals. Also, I do not think "some MUST fail." But even if it is so, we must fight it to make another's life better, and naturally, our lives more meaningful.
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        Jul 28 2011: I think one of the things I most like about what Mark seems to be saying is that his evaluations are product-based and students are given a great deal of responsibility, support, feedback, and opportunities to implement that feedback successfully.

        To me, that means that the student is being held to a high standard and being given the tools to reach that standard.

        I dislike the idea of "failing" students; at the same time, I think we do kids and ourselves a disservice by praising work that is a) not truly praiseworthy and b) not truly work. A flaw with the grading system A-F is not just the F, but the easy A. It is not individualized.

        And Ian, I'm with you - a solid education should be a right for all human beings.
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      Jul 28 2011: Jake, you sound like you work for Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee. I'm sure you favor standardized testing, pop quizzes and homework too. You certainly don't sound like a teacher, which is good. Learning should never have consequences; this is the current problem and one of the many reasons we continue to churn out high school dropouts, graduates who all-to-often don't go to college and more and more unemployed people.

      The current system that you love so much does not inspire learning. In my nearly 20 years as a classroom teacher, I've had hundreds of students come to my class, labeled as "F students." That is, they failed time and again from first grade onward. So, the grade system has failed them. Meanwhile, I've seen many "A students" put in cursory efforts at best and often turn into cheaters, just to maintain the grade.

      The attitude that some students must fail while others succeed is a pervasive one that needs to disappear. Why must we have failures? In a Results Only Learning Environment, all students succeed. Even you must believe that this a good thing.
      • Jul 28 2011: Mark
        I do generally agree with you and Jake I don't believe education is a privilege. Mark, somewhere in here there is a place for saying you don't measure up to some sort of standard. People do fail, in lots of things. The everyone is a winner thing is lost on me. But I do agree with you on changing the system. I like some of the portfolio idea of Michael MCC below. Yes, I think the F as failure is a stigma. Frankly the only people I ever failed were those that cheated on tests. But gosh Mark, people do mess up and that does bring consequences.

        Jake, sorry, education is the basis for our equality as citizens, not equality in abilities. Yes I cannot throw a football well now. (I used to do ok). We do have differing abilities and capacities, but gosh, some people we have labeled as "diminshed capacity" have done some incredible things.

        There is no such thing as social evolution. There are only the barriers that others construct to defend their own status.
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          Jul 28 2011: Michael, I don't think I said, "Everyone is a winner," but I certainly think in schools everyone can be successful. There will be losers in life in the job place and in competition. School can help all students avoid this, though.
      • Jul 28 2011: Mark, I was directly commenting on the phrase "Why must we have failures?" I want students to be successful too believe me. Unless there is some fundamental change about how we view education/preparation for vocation/discovery we may never get there. Keep talking Mark.
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          Jul 28 2011: Thanks for the clarification and for keeping this debate stimulating. I think we're all changing things right now.
    • Jul 28 2011: Jake,

      I agree that students need to be evaluated for many reasons. It is to their benefit so they can track themselves and help understand their learning, but also it helps others get a good picture of the students so they can determine if they want to give those students opportunities.

      The problem is the current grade system is not effective and it doesn't always (maybe hardly ever) reflect a student's knowledge and ability. Many students have figured out the system and the others who haven't are set up for failure because they are in a failed system. We should try and establish a new system, one that paints a more accurate portrait of a student's learning.

      How can we eliminate poverty, ghettos, crime if education is a privlege for the privleged? And the others who don't figure out the system are being conditioned for menial jobs in a society they probably don't feel warm enough about to try to make a change in.

      I suggest that teachers/school districts adopt a combination of grades and a portfolio-type system. Who knows what doors technology can open to these sorts of things. I realize that there would be complications with such a system, but there are a range of intelligences so measuring learning by only one means is a disservice to the student. I think we should blend traditional with a new system; one that measures students spectrum of learning, as opposed to only counting on one system that many students don't get and don't want to take part in. We shouldn't encourage the creation of a privleged class, but we should acknowledge diverse learners and try to promote them all.

      I think an evaluation system of that sort would benefit the typical high-performing students, encourage the apathetic ones to be more involved, both of which would be a benefit to our communities.

      I have trouble understanding your views. You want to help the poor and underprivileged, but you don't seem to take into account that the present system doesn't accommodate them.
      • Jul 28 2011: Some nice ideas Michael. Can you describe how the portfolio system would work a bit more?
      • Jul 30 2011: I work in a school system that requires 6 process and 6 product grades each quarter. They are weighted 30/70 %, respectively. In my projects oriented classroom, process grads are often the "are you actively working, and if not, what are you thinking, so I can put something in the grade book" grades. There is a lot of verbal feedback at this stage. The other grades are the "show me what you know" grades. Let's say that the project is a poem written using metaphors. Did you use metaphors? No? Let's go back and fix that so we can all see the brilliance of you in your I Am poem.

        One year I had Bobby, who loved to make paper airplanes, spitballs, and rubber band rockets. Nice guy. Bass guitarist. didn't care about the Puritans. When we read The Crucible, he slept through it with his eyes open. After the test (he scored a 69), I mentioned that with just one more correct answer, he would have had a C. He denied that he was a C student. As the year progressed, he tried on the role of a C, a B, even an A student. By the end of the year he was a solid A/B student in most of his classes. The following year, he remained an A/B student. Would I have been able to help him change his perception of himself without that old, icky multiple choice test? Probably not.

        I see the need for changing how we grade students. In my Senior course, I like the projects and the do overs. In my Junior course, I like starting them off with the old icky M/C tests mixed with projects. For the last couple of years, students have the option on most Product grades of do-overs. If you fail the M/C test, try it again, or show me in another way what you know, so long as you are showing me that you have mastered these Core Goals. Starting the Juniors off in this way gives them a blended assessment experience and I get a bit more insight into who does well at test taking (since the educational system loves standardized tests) and who does well with other types of assessment.
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    Jul 28 2011: Yes, it is time. My grandfather taught in a one-room school where older students tutored younger students. The blended environment benefits everyone. Corporate control of education policy makes creative change very difficult in the US. The day when public educators are set free to reshape schools is the day that change such as the restructuring Ken Robinson suggests, will begin. .
  • Jul 27 2011: contd ..
    - Central idea #4:'Creativity is stifled by grades'. I kind of agree with this but only when it is put in context. This keeps coming up in different ways 'System only grades on learning whats already known' - show me one person who produced highly creative idea without knowing the basics - learn what is known first, where you take yourself from there is upto you. 'A student can be very creative with English essay writing but not so good at Math, why does he have to bother with Math' - thats exactly why after a certain age you get to drop what you dont like and prusue what you like, till then you are introduced to everything to figure out what you like. Definitely, there is a lot of scope for improvement in this area of the system.

    - Central idea #5: 'Narrative feedback will improve the system'. How exactly? If I look at 10 narrative feedbacks given by the same teacher to 10 different students, by analysing and cross referencing I can rank those 10 feedbacks. Its simply ranking in a different format. I wont get into how complex (almost impossible) it is to do this. Unless you think we dont need to rank anyone at all, now thats a seperate discussion. Also keep in mind when companies hire they dont compare GPA's in decimal digits, they simply set a minimum criteria, everyone about 3.0 can apply, then its upto how you showcase your talent in an interview. One may agrue that jugding poeple after 30 mins interview is also not an acceptable format.
  • Jul 27 2011: I think the whole educational system is obsolete. Just as I think that 'grades' should be....personalized. As the whole learning experience.

    I've read somewhere recently that one school is trying a new teaching system (or they want to implement it, rather). Have the kid study at home (with the help of the parents), through internet. The next day the student would go to school and their job would be to exercise whatever they learnt the previous day at home.
    This would take away the notion of grading as we know it, and change the way a student learns. In my opinion, it is better the have the child start learning in a safe and comfortable environment such as their homes instead with having to cope with the new and possible hostile environment that schools and bullies provide these days.

    I know that the idea I've wrote about is pretty succinct and there are a lot of issues to solve before this being a practical idea, but if done right, I believe that it would be a step into the right direction.

    Learn your child how to learn. We have knowledge about mnemonic techniques, but we don't teach the kids in school to use them. Why? I know that some of them are using such techniques on their own, but why not teach it in schools? It seems like a pretty handy skill when learning.
    We also need to listen and the be aware of individuals as well. One of the students prefers maths, whilst another might prefer biology over math. With a bit of listening and counselling the student might end up studying a number of modules specifically tailored for his abilities. We put too much emphasis on an artificial and antiquated grading system which doesn't have a corespondent in today's world anymore.

    I'm sorry if I've been a bit confusing in some parts, my English is not my native language :)
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      Jul 27 2011: Stefan, I appreciate your comments, and I agree in most places, although I certainly do not believe the education system is obsolete.

      I think the system you speak of involves the Khan Academy. Many schools are using the videos provided by Khan as a supplement to learning. I've heard of models that go primarily to this, but I would not support these. I do not want to take the teacher out of the equation. I would like to change the teacher's role, however.
      • Jul 27 2011: Don't take the teacher out of the equation. Revolutionize education and hire better teachers who believe in the new system and support it, get rid of the ones who don't. There are great teachers out there who make their classrooms a safe place to be. Fill the schools with those teachers and over time, the learning environment will be positive. I teach in an inner city school and I can tell you that most of my students do not have safe homes. School is their safe haven. It's where their friends are, it's where they get a meal, and most importantly (if good teachers are hired) it's where the most influential and loving adults in their lives can be found.
      • Jul 27 2011: I'm sorry, Mark, I really believe that the educational system, as it stands today, is an obsolete system, that hampers rather and helps develop one's skills. This system was conceived 200 years ago, to serve the needs of the Industrial Revolution. You needed a lot of qualified personnel for your new factories equipped with new engines and machinery. You needed a lot of people that could read and do simple maths so you took a bunch of kids of the same age, put them together in a class and taught them how to read and write and do calculations. They needed a system who would turn people into machines. Taught to think alike and act alike. I think we're past that now, we can afford to teach our kids what they actually want to learn. Today's society requires more and more creative and random behaviourism in order to evolve organically. People who experiment more, rather than to follow the norm. Politicians who would do things out of the norm. Like going the ECO way.
        We're forcing our kids to learn about the world in school. And we punish them with bad grades or failed module if they won't. Instead, I say to have classes that no work would be graded, classes that normally you won't see in our system, Like, a Religions module, that would have teachers talk about different religions, so the students would know about the actual faiths. They could learn about the Quran and Tora and the Bible, the New and Old Testaments, about Buddhism and Animism. Think what would be like to have future politicians with a more educated opinion on religions of the world when they're put in decision making places.

        Again, this is half wish, half crazy talk, but I do believe that our system is harming us more than it does good.
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          Jul 27 2011: I can't argue with you. I think we're fighting for the same things.

          Thanks for keeping the debate going.
  • Jul 27 2011: Grades are retarded. I just graduated high school and grades never really meant anything to me. I always thought it was dumb and I waste of time. For me I found many flaws in the school system during high school and I am sure I will find more when I go to college. School has be taught one way for way to long and it is time to change the way education is taught. When I would get good grades I never felt satisfied! Its a grade and it does not represent the level of knowledge I have.


    P.S. Watch this -
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      Jul 27 2011: Hey Eric, thanks for the Ken Robinson video (I've seen it, and it's wonderful). In order to change the system, we need more stakeholders to make their voices heard. I hope that as a student continuing your education that you'll continue to voice your concerns. We need teachers, students, parents and other education leaders to talk, write and jump up and down, if necessary, to get the attention of lawmakers, in order to let them know that change is needed.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.
  • Jul 27 2011: I don't think grading is that bad. It motivates to do better, to read more, ect. also think that professor should be graded too. There is individuals out there who consider them self professors. And are teaching only for the money, I'm a student and it really sucks when you have a professor who does not make the lecture interesting at all!,but when it comes to grading they expects from you something PERFECT!. Like if they were PERFECT educators. What should change is the way we teach teachers become one. never the less, I also think that grading sometimes is not that great. My friend took a class and failed it then she took it again and passed it, the F was erased but not her GPA(the GPA was never changed). In that case the point of college is learning and if you have learned the subject i don't think there should not be any reason why an F should determine if the person is capable of learning a subject.
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      Jul 27 2011: Oscar, it's interesting that you begin by saying that grades aren't so bad, but later you give an example of someone's GPA being hurt by an F.

      This is exactly what's wrong with grades, among other things. Rarely do grades allow for mastery learning. Your friend may have been victimized by poor instruction the first time. Later, she demonstrated learning (maybe the conditions changed), so why should she be penalized by a poor GPA, which could affect what job she gets or doesn't get later.

      This is why narrative feedback is so much better than grades. It allows for mastery learning, without the punitive effects of the letter.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.
  • Jul 27 2011: The real purpose of grades is actually to motivate students. but the question is, does it actually serves its purpose? does it actually motivates the student? and based on my observation [how students lose their confidence because they got low grades] I can probably say that majority doesn't get motivated by it. It only creates superiority inside the class- the ones with a higher grade is better compared to the ones without lower grades. In the same way, giving grades gives lecturer/teacher an absolute power over the class and I think that is not what a proper class is suppose to be; because it destroys the essence of conversation and learning.
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      Jul 27 2011: Matt, you've hit upon some things that haven't been brought up in this remarkable debate. I couldn't agree more that grades hurt confidence. Many students start getting low grades very early in school and they never recover. They don't believe they can achieve, because of constant low grades.

      Your point about a teacher having "absolute power" is also well taken. I appreciate you mentioning this, as it needs to be explored more thoroughly. I constantly hear teachers say things like, "I can't get him to do the work; I'm going to fail him." I'm sure I was like that myself, before turning my class into a Results Only Learning Environment. Declarations of failing a student make teachers sound like they don't care, and I don't believe this is the case. It's just that we've been conditioned that grading is the way to go, and all too often, D's and F's become our own little punishments: "If you don't do this, you'll get a D."

      This power/control, alone, should be enough to get teachers to rethink grades.

      Thanks for your insights.
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    Jul 26 2011: You are right; I agree that grades do not represent understanding of the subject taught. WE should ask our students to present what they have learned objectively. Composing and playing a piece of music is what a student of music has learnt, not his marks. Eliminating grades is good but when you have a lot of students, in different classes, you are forced to evaluate them by grading because of time shortage. We should find better feasible methods for evaluating our students. AS an example, in some places English language is taught, students get high marks, but they can’t write or speak well. This issue needs more research.
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    Jul 26 2011: The system we currently have is stable, but I believe it is not effective either. There are a couple great TED videos out there with very persuading directions in which to go. If you havent seen any of the videos from Sir Ken Robinson or Salman Khan, and wish to discuss this topic, check them out first!

    As they both argue, the current system can only gauge how a student does with a specific subject, given a usual course outline over a brief period of time. It does a really good job of determining ones work ethic, but arguably isn't the best gauge of that either! Creativity cannot be measured in our system, and must be taught. All of my siblings have had struggles with teachers at some point considering us to be learning disabled in some form, or require remedial courses. I even had to attend summer school for my 6th grade math class due to a failing grade. Many of our teachers were aware enough to see the desire and creativity in us, and nurtured it. But somewhere along the lines the current system just didn't motivate those with the capacity for creative thought, and those who didn't see it necessary (at such a young age) to put in the time and effort into something as plain as 6th grade math. "I want to send someone into outer-space! Why should I learn this basic math?" Somehow the ones in power are usually the ones who aren't nurturing you, and only see poor grades. With that said, I am an engineer. My other siblings are lawyers, playwrights, keen on political affairs, multi-lingual, and just plain brilliant! We are another piece of living proof that the system, although stable, needs to be revamped. I would love to hear thoughts on a new system, or how to improve the one we already have!

    Dont worry, I passed my 6th grade summer school in record time and was able to stabilize my math career before becoming an engineer, but my argument still stands.
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    Jul 26 2011: Thanks for this Sushan. I do believe this sort of feedback can work. I'm a little wary of standards-based assessment, because the standards aren't always what the student needs, and I'm not confident that people creating the standards are the ones most qualified to write them.

    This does seem to be where we are headed, though.
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    Jul 26 2011: I think my answer to your question would be two-fold. I don`t think that the assignment of grades is, or should be, a replacement for constructive feedback, or vise versa. I think that presenting it as an either-or proposition presupposes that feedback is relegated to a grade assignment only, or feedback without a `ranking`that a student can use as a goal post. (I also feel that a failing grade, given with supportive constructive feedback, provides an opportunity for concrete goals to strive for, and can be extremely useful to students in all kinds of ways.) Secondly, I think that we live in a world where far too few people actually understand the term `constructive criticism`. By providing feedback along with a grade, students can be trained to welcome and even seek-out feedback, to understand that errors are a necessary precurser to success, and that failing is also a part of life. I sit on many hiring committees, and whenever possible, I offer an opportunity to applicants to contact me for constructive feedback on their applications and-or (sorry, slash not working on this keyboard) interviews. It is shocking how few people actually contact me. This kind of engagement needs to be enouraged, in my opinion, and schools are a natural fit for this kind of citizen-education.
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    Jul 26 2011: As a student, i felt that grades really help in knowing our capability and making us aware of our progress in school. It may also help the teachers to really know which student who really need help in class and perhaps giving extra attention towards these low-graded students. Besides, students need to take their grades as a motovation if they did not perform well and to keep it up to those who did well. Therefore, phositive thinking is the key towards solving the grade issue in my opinion.
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      Jul 26 2011: Muhammad, as much as I appreciate your opinion and your comments, especially your sentiment about positive thinking toward solving this issue, I couldn't disagree more about grades providing motivation and knowing progress.

      As I outline in my forthcoming book, the majority of classes end grading periods with a bell curve -- 20 percent low, 20 percent high and 60 percent in the middle. On this scale, only 20 percent of our students feel good about themselves, and that is a false feeling, based on a letter. The other 80 percent are not motivated at all, as they typically see themselves as failures.

      I know how all of my students are progressing, and I never need to put a letter or number on anything. Best of all, they know how they're doing, because they get constant, detailed narrative feedback from me all year -- not just a letter on four report cards.

      Thanks for participating.
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        Jul 27 2011: Mark, if you don't mind, could you address me as Afif since in my country, our race doesn't have a family name.

        By the way, maybe how students were taught to actually make use of the grading system because at in Malaysia, my friends and i would rather think lower grades as a platform for us to improve ourselves better and we know the level we were at in order to achieve more and how much more effort do we need to put in it.
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          Jul 27 2011: Afif, thanks for this additional comment, as I believe a Results Only Learning Environment is global reform, so I'm always eager to learn about education in other cultures. Although I know children are conditioned in many countries that education is most important and grades are valuable, unfortunately, in the U.S. this isn't always the case. Here, grades more often are punishment than levels to be improved upon. This works for some children, but for others, especially those from poverty, grades are often only a punishment for either not understanding or not competing some activity.

          What we wind up with is a cycle of one bad grade after another and students who believe they are and always will be failures. This is why I believe narrative feedback and an entire different approach to education is necessary. We need to meet the needs of all students, not just the ones striving for good grades.

          Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
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          Jul 27 2011: Dear Afif, I just want to take a moment to thank you for teaching us how to address you with respect. Sometimes errors and offensive actions between cultures are simply a matter of ignorance or lack of education. I am deeply appreciative that you took the time and had the good will to show me how to express the good will that I feel when i call someone by their name. Doing it right is important.
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        Jul 27 2011: Since you are a teacher, if it's not possible to change the grading system, why don't you try suggesting to the school administration to try and teach the correct way of looking the grades and turn it into a positive way to look at. Maybe a little brainstorming from the teachers could help out and maybe change the way students look at the grading system now.
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          Jul 27 2011: I couldn't agree more. I hope this is where we're heading.
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    Jul 26 2011: I try not to evaluate them at all. The evaluation comes with how they use the information in their lives. Yes, 15+ years in education and I have seen so many students forced into learning things that have little to no relevance to them and it does not stick with them. It has no lasting quality or impact. I work in a high poverty area with many illegals, immigrants, and blue collar students that have no job future and will end up on welfare so my view may be skewed. We need education that is relevant to today. The classical Greek education idea was good for the aristocracy but not for the slaves. Let's be honest not everyone is college material and as a system the US fails to address this reality. Maybe it is just my district but we fail to provide meaningful life education when we assume every student is a university student. If we are honest a lot of university degrees are useless for both the student and society. i.e. Masters in women's studies, ethnic studies, you name it. They are irrelevant but the universities grind them out by the thousands. I have already asked the Governor of California to get a relevancy review of the degrees that a taught at universities and get rid of those that do not fit the job market now or in the future. Cynical!!!! heavens no just realistic about what I have seen for the past decade.
    People learn what is relevant to them and the rest is stored in long term memory and rarely if ever is used. Teachers are taught only one or two ways of teaching and yet if we look at Gardner's studies there are multiple ways. Teaching college programs are stuck about 20 years behind reality. I experienced them calling things new that we had in industry 20 years ago and got rid of because they did not work even with repeated same parts made over and over. We cannot expect humans who are each unique individuals to become statistical units for educational evaluation. We have to reach them one at a time where they find relevancy. A daunting task
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    Jul 26 2011: We need well-rounded people but we keep making people who's obsessed about grades,achievements,medals etc..Schools should find a way to counteract this problem immediately or else, we would be giving birth to generations of exam-oriented students.
  • Jul 26 2011: Maybe schools or the education system should put in small fine letters.

    "The grade presented in this report card does not represent your child true learning standing and if you disagree with the grade given please contact your child's teacher. As the teacher will discuss the reasons why your child was rated this grade in terms of learning standing."
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      Jul 26 2011: Not a bad alternative to the traditional method we currently have. Thanks.
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      Jul 27 2011: No. Grades might be bad, but a grade with a note attached telling you how useless it is only reduces the system to a farce. Perhaps you meant the statement to be a joke, but Marks endorsement causes me to think it is being taken seriously.
      • Aug 1 2011: I would say yes to this idea as detailing the grade and the reason why they grade it would provide a much better idea to the parent rather than just grading. This idea was inspired by the S/P rating style. They would rate a company then provide a detail reason on why the rated it and the concerns and highlights of the company. I think it would be a better way to explain the reasoning of the grade to the parent and to the student then just giving them a grade and a small "Great job" note.
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    Jul 26 2011: Then why have schools ??
    teaching can begin at home & jobs would be provided by families......
    Grades do not degrade as per some perceptions, but provide your child with a cutting edge like a branded product which provides you the dependability & output, thereby creating the stability required.
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      Jul 26 2011: No offense, but I don't want my child to be branded. Especially by someone who bases the brand on numbers and percentages, which are far too subjective.

      If I said you and your comment are an F, I don't think you'd like the brand. I'm guessing you are far more than this.

      Thanks for the comment.
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        Jul 26 2011: Sad Mark./ U completely missed the jist of my comment. Anyway as a concerned parent, U are absolutely right in ur thoughts, but look at the larger picture: we grade our children in our own parameters, so it is with the world, when it comes for the child to stand on his or her own feet. Gradations may not be academic in nature, but academic gradations at times, do make a fighter for excellence in a child. Provided it isnt done by a self perpetuating neurotic teacher, who half the time never understands the basic tenets of grades.
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          Jul 27 2011: Thanks for the clarification. You're right about many teachers never understanding the basic tenets of grades. Another reason I'd just like to replace them completely with narrative feedback.

          Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
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      Jul 26 2011: Why have schools? To prepare children to live good lives.

      If you take a child who could develop a talent to write, analyze, discuss, and do reseach well, but has low memory skills for remembeing facts and complex vocabulary, and put that child in a school that focuses of objective grading (memory tests), that child will be eliminated from possibilities of higher education by grades because grades go together with tests. This child may even drop out as he/she sees the writing on the wall. This is sad because it eliminates a person who could have learned how to think more clearly and analytically. Since there are many types of memory, a lack of a strong memory for content does not entail a lack of strong memory for doing things including things like writing, thinking, discussing, analyzing, researching, etc. When the content is incorporated into the doing, or put at close reach for research, a person can still become a useful contibutor even though they do not test and "grade" well.

      If a person writes a paper, what is the useful feedback? The grade or the comments? What would be a better way to get those comments? A few terse notes from a teacher who has too many students to do anything other than issue grades, or a small group discussion in which the teacher and the other students discuss each other's papers? In the expensive Ivy league type college I went to, they peferred the latter and I think it helped as much or more than all of the grades I was ever given.

      Our fixed habit of using grades to eliminate childen (rather than to motivate by using them to acknowledge effort) does not serve most childen, because when you combine it with our allstar system of evaluating people, almost eveyone gets eliminated sooner or later.
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    Jul 26 2011: The problem is see with that is when there are not two applicants but thousands,how do you effectively work through them?
  • Jul 26 2011: Change them yes, not eliminate.
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    Jul 26 2011: Grades are not liked by most teachers. As a teacher I dislike having to assign grades to any student at any level. They are a one moment snap shot of what the student could cram into short term memory. Authentic learning is only found in what students do with the information over a life time. Narrative feedback is a waste of time also. I had a couple of courses in college that had narrative feed back and I forgot what was said as soon as I walked out the door. I just got credit for the course and moved on. If you think about it most educational systems are a waste of time anyway. They are not relevant to the students interest in life. They assume all students are clones and have the same skills and abilities and have archaic chains of command based on the good old girl system and in the end the Peter Principal applies. The people that rise to the top are the worst teachers and there is no where else to get rid of them. They have little to no student skills and have big ideas on teaching but cannot make them work in real classrooms so they become LEADERS that talk a lot but know nothing. We need to get rid of all educational systems and start over completely in my opinion.
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      Jul 26 2011: I wonder how long you've taught. You are far too cynical to be a new teacher. If you forgot narrative feedback as soon as you walked out on a professor, then the feedback was minimal and useless.

      Effective feedback is ongoing and meaningful. Ninety-four percent of my students report that they learn more from feedback and prefer it over a letter grade.

      I make no assumptions about my students. I try to instill a love of learning in them, and I provide them with many opportunities to demonstrate learning. They have freedom of choice and they use my meaningful feedback to master learning outcomes.

      If you dislike grades and find narrative feedback a waste of time, I wonder how you evaluate your students.
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      Jul 27 2011: Just too negative. Sweeping statements about how bad everything is without any viable alternatives. Also, a misinterpretation of the Peter principle, which in this context would promote the best teachers into management positions, such as head of department, where they spend their time doing things they're not so good at, instead of teaching. Your comments about tests being a snapshot and how the important thing is how someone uses their knowledge in their life were good points.
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    Jul 26 2011: Grades are a part of a system that destroys lives.

    I read the word "undesirables" below, but grading exists to create "undesireables" so that they can be distinguished from those whose particular constellation of natural abilities qualify them to "deserve" Oxford because those abilities allow them to thrive in a poorly designed, one size fits all, secondary education system.

    Attempting to distinguish between who matters and who does not is premised on the supposition that some do not matter.

    In a system where everyone matters, evaluations would be premised upon how each person is developing from their particular set of abilities toward the particular set of possibilities those abilities create for them.

    The "allstar" mentailty is ultimately designed to eventualy eliminate most of us from the class of people who matter and as a consequence, it is mere foolishness for us to just accept this system and collaborate with it until our lives come crashing down arround us when some school, or coach, or employer, ultimately tells us we aren't worth anything anymore.

    An education system that aimed at maximizing intellectual development would not focus upon early prejudicial determinations as to who has ability so as to remove the others from the possibility of assistance and a determination that educational methods who fail to work with those children are fine in spite of their failure because the fault is with the child.

    The focus should be on determinaions as to what a particular child could most benefit from at a particular time. Those deteminations do not require the issuance of report cards.

    Often the very assessment methods that are suitable for generalting report cards (tests) are what is most inappropriate for particular children. Often what can be taught by methods designed for maximizing test performance are worth much less than what could be taught by engaging in different kinds of activities that do not lend themselves to easy objective assessment.
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    Jul 25 2011: Lenghty feedback is great if you've got time to write it and others have the time to read it. It's useful for students. But lets be practical too: when there's thousands of students/job applicants or whatever, you can't read and compare each file. That's why grades are useful, albeit imperfect. The only way to compare one thing with another is to quantify the qualities you're interested in. If you're interested in enthusiasm, you could read 10 pages about how well the student worked in various projects, but what will you have to do in you mind at the end of it all? Well, you'll have to think that their enthusiasm is more or less than the other person, so you might as well have a grade for enthusism to begin with. The reason we use charts and graphs and grades is because we don't have the time or the inclination to digest masses of information. The reason we like computers is because they eleviate the need to examine data ourselves. In my earlier example of Oxford uni maths course, if all the students presented a detailed feedback file, the admissions officer would need about 1000 hours to read them. Maybe they can spend 5 hours a day reading, so thats 200 working days and thats without any analysis or cross referencing. So the year would likely be over by the time they'd decided which students to take. And who's got a good enough memory for such comparisons? Summary: give as much feedback as you can in the classroom, but at the end of the course, you gotta have a grade or pass/fail (not yet passed) to allow results to be communicated between non-related organisations. Voila!
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    Jul 25 2011: I think your question runs deeper than just the elimination of grades. The outgrowth of the grade system corridor may be based on something more fundamentally flawed.
    As Jean Piaget said, "Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?"
    This is very much in line with the philosophy of Socrates and his ideas on education. His methods were based on developing memory through ennobling one's own involvement of participation and not just some passive speculation of instruction. Hence, the socratic method.
    Fundamentally, I think, the issue is cultural. That we, as the cultural engineers of society, command down all of the pre-given answers and to question them is dissident in behavior and thus leads to a lack of confidence in one's academia and so forth.
    So yes, I agree with you Mark. At the same time, a grading system should exist but not in order to compare it in a competitive dance against others but for the sole purpose of one to understand themselves in their studies objectively. Same goes with IQ. Facts have been shown that geniuses do not necessarily have large brains or something like that, their fervor and dedication to their craft creates mastery.IQ tests measure your responses to fixed sets of conditions, not intelligence and especially not the creative force of novelty.
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    Jul 25 2011: I don't think that a business that is looking through CVs in order to select the best candidate for a position would benefit from narrative feedback, they are looking for grades to determine who can learn to the highest level which can be related to their scores in exams.
    I agree that more feedback is required during the learning process but I also fell that grades also have a benefit.
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      Jul 25 2011: Alexander, thanks for chiming in on this. You are likely right about the business world, but that doesn't mean that it's what is best. Like most people, business owners are conditioned to look for grades and GPAs, because that's all we have. Until educators change the system, businesses will still want grades. Once the system changes, business will have no choice but to fall into line.

      Consider this scenario: you are hiring a programmer to work at your Internet company. Two applicants attended equally-good IT schools. One walks in with a 4.0 GPA. The other has no GPA, but he walks in with a folder filled with dozens of pages of detailed narratives, outlining all of his pertinent programming skills, major math, IT and other relevant projects he's completed and many thoughts about what a focused and enthusiastic worker he is.

      Which applicant would you hire?
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        Jul 26 2011: The problem is see with that is when there are not two applicants but thousands,how do you effectively work through them?
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          Jul 26 2011: Yes, but that's not our problem. We just need to do what's right in education, and allow the colleges and employers to decide how to handle it.

          Thanks, Alexander, for keeping the conversation going.
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          Jul 27 2011: Actually, I am not sure how true the grades vs. accomplishments argument truly is outside academia. When I applied to grad school, GPA was a big factor. I am not sure my current boss could tell you off the top of her head where I went to school or what my GPA was. She can darn sure tell you what previous experience or prior successes drew her eye.
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          Jul 27 2011: Alexander's point stands. The education system can't cut itself off from employers any more that schools can be separate from universities. It should all link up. It doesn't matter how beautifully a train runs on a track if it gets derailed before its destination.
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      Jul 26 2011: Do businesses ever ask for transcripts? I wish they would because mine are awesome but most of the time I am on an equal footing with the person who scraped by without learning more than half the course.
    • Aug 10 2011: Speaking as the manager of a medical clinic who IS responsible for staffing, I only give a cursory glance at grades. I find them unrelated to the likely success of a staff member, no matter the position. Are they willing and eager to learn? Are they resume padders? Are they empathic? Do they understand the science behind the job? (I let our medical staff handle that part of the questioning)? And most of all, do they have the ability to adapt and generalize?n Are they professionals and take pride in not just a job well done, but a job done as well as humanly possible. Of course we are hiring staff for a service job where you are dealing with people who are sometimes at the worst moments of their lives. This takes a certain skill set.

      And yes, we get requests to work at our clinic almost daily. When we have an opening I get literally thousands of resume on my desk. Luckily, because we hire people and not resumes, humans and not grades, we have VERY low turnover and VERY high patient health outcomes. In fact, in our area (chronic, metabolic, and funcitional diseases) we are heads and shoulders above our competition. I mention this because I know that means that we are untypical, but I have always felt that standardized rubrics for hiring (such as credit checks) are a lousy way to find good employees.

      Let me give you an example. "Mary" didn't have the best grade, but I thought she might make a good assistant to the medical director due to her demeanor, work history, recommendations, and quick and sharp mind and presentation when I talked to her. But on paper, looking at her transcript, it wasn't the best. She admitted that she didn't have the best grades because she found many of her classes stilted and boring. But there was something there.

      Our medical director gave her a hard time in the interview expecting a lack of depth of subject knowledge and was blown away that Mary was up on all the latest research which the grade hounds were not. She's still with us.
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        Aug 11 2011: Hi Jeffrey,

        The college program I teach is focused on a particular career, and so I have the opportunity to interact closely with employers. Employers generally care little for letter grades or percentage scores, because they are so vague. What does a "B" mean? Is it a hard-working student who struggles a little with abstract concepts? Is it a brilliant student who didn't apply him/herself to the task? Is it the best student in the class, who unfortunately suffered a family catastrophe during the quarter and whose mind was distracted? I dearly wish I could dispense with letter grades, because they lack precision. What I can and do provide are individual recommendations to employers, which are taken seriously.

        A trend I'm seeing from employers in recent years is a transition toward hands-on performance demonstrations during the interview process. Nothing reveals an applicant's technical prowess more efficiently than a real-life demonstration. One employer I work closely with refuses to hire any new graduates unless and until they have successfully completed an internship with them. These internships are paid well and regarded as months-long interviews. The trouble with this is how time-consuming and expensive it is to execute. However, employers know full well how much time and money gets wasted by hiring employees with poor skills (either technical or soft skills).

        Interestingly, the one in-class metric employers universally prioritize above all others is *attendance*. A student with a spotty attendance record is a liability in their eyes, and I would have to say I agree.
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    Jul 25 2011: Well Mark, you guess wrong. I spent much of my high school living on the streets as an orphan, not knowing where my next meal was coming from. So, calculus was the farthest thing from my mind. But, for the curriculum that was available to me, I did with it as well as anyone could ask, as you can plainly cull.

    Secondly, I did not think that your debate was a test. Just offering my two cents. As you can plainly see, I did not take exception to your stance nor did I take a diametrically opposite one. And, as a p/t teacher at a charter school, I wouldn't necessarily think that some sort of measuring stick should be thrown out with the bathwater without a viable replacement.

    By the way, I just came back from Haiti where I am leading a group of three hundred teachers install a new faith-based curriculum in schools down there. What are you doing?
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      Jul 25 2011: John, I was in no way attempting to demean your take. I was just confused by it. It seems as though you've done well for yourself, and you are doing excellent work worldwide. Very commendable.

      Not sure if you're really interested in what I'm doing, or if your "What are you doing" question was only an attempt to underscore your own work. You can learn more about me here, if you wish:
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    Jul 25 2011: I think using "Leveling up" systems in school is a good alternative!
  • Jul 25 2011: I agree with you subjectively, but I disagree objectively because "narrative feedback" would be just subjectively chaotic to standardize on a mass scale.

    As a student, I don't like grades. Grades demean a student's true passion for the subject and make everything seem like a competition. But, that's the only way to go about in a practical world with many people in need of being "Educated".
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      Jul 25 2011: Raj, I'm not sure I understand, "subjectively chaotic to standardize on a mass scale." Narrative feedback is in no way standardized. It is something good teachers use to supply detailed feedback about what was or was not learned.
      • Jul 26 2011: I was just trying to say that it will be hard to implement this on a mass scale. There won't be a measure of the feedback that can be practically quantified.

        However, if we couple grades and positive feedback then the student's needs will better be delivered.
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    Jul 25 2011: Hi my friend
    I had been searched about education,especially for kid and I'm unanimous with you ..
    but my friend it's good to more research and more reasons to confirm it.
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      Jul 25 2011: Mojtaba, you are absolutely right about research. I have not only researched results-only learning and narrative feedback over grades for my forthcoming book, but I have used and continue to use it in my own classroom. I'll keep you posted.

      Thanks for commenting.
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        Jul 25 2011: Dear mark
        could you give me your website/weblog's address, if you share your results on web? or introduce any website that its content is like your results?
        Thank You
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    Jul 25 2011: I don't necessarily disagree with your premise about doing away with grades, as there needs to be a "filtering" of who is getting the stuff taught and who isn't. I don't believe that everyone should go to college, become a doctor, or even President of the US. A natural culling of "undesirables" needs to be done. I don't mean that the student is "undesirable," as such; what I am saying is there has to be some equananimous way for students to rank themselves based on a just curriculum.

    The problem is that all kids don't have a level playing field, many from "day one" of their education, due to environment, stimulation, parenting, and many other things. So yes, grading as a function of whether someone "gets it" is, if you'll pardon the pun, too "subjective" to be used with any regularity. Teachers, schools, districts, socioeconomics and many other facets affect the way our kids are taught. For example, many years ago, I went to what was considered one of the top high schools in my state. I graduated as the class valedictorian. When I went to college (one of the four military academies), I immediately found out that I needed to take a summer set of classes in calculus, as I was one of about 30 guys who had not received that subject in high school. It was tough to be "behind" before I really ever started.

    And that's the problem today in our schools. Too many kids from impoverished backgrounds are behind before they even start first grade.
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      Jul 25 2011: John, although I appreciate your sentiments, they seem to be all over the place. You want to cull the "undesirables," yet you complain that "too many kids from impoverished backgrounds are behind. . ." Students become "undesirable" in the eyes of administrators and, especially, colleges, because of grades. It is not grades that prepare students for college, it's proper teaching and learning.

      Grades kill a thirst for learning, especially in students from poverty. Without boring traditional methods and punitive grades, even impoverished students can see the need for learning.

      My guess is that if a good teacher would have instilled in you a thirst for calculus, you would have found it. You could have done just as well in your military academy with a solid portfolio of academic accomplishments and a long list of narratives about you and your successes in high school.
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      Jul 25 2011: Unfortunately, that's one of the problems in our education system. The primary purpose of education today is to cull students from successful paths in life, since we don't have enough successful paths for everyone.
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        Jul 25 2011: A point I hadn't considered, David. Perhaps, in addition to improving our broken education system, we need to create more paths for students to choose. Or, better yet, maybe we should coach them on how to create their own.

        Hope all is well since we spoke at ISTE.

        Thanks for joining the discussion.
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    Jul 25 2011: i believe so. grades can either give unfair credit to the child who has learned nothing, or severly undermine the students who really learned things, or really tried their best. they don't provide real proof of learning in all cases. hopefully smart ideas like narrative feedback become utilized in classrooms everywhere.

    also, the idea of ROLE is really neat, i think a lot of children could benefit from teaching in this kind of environment! the control factor in classrooms is a really threatening thing. children are far more capable of functioning, "behaving", and having freedom in a classroom than anybody gives them credit for, and this environment really takes the threatening part away. your website is very informative and i enjoyed reading it!
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      Jul 25 2011: Thanks for your insightful comments. It's support like yours that will make results-only learning take off.
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    Jul 24 2011: Yes, but are the alternatives easy and ready for a massive scale?
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      Jul 25 2011: Sadly, government is making it difficult to implement wide-scale change. State report cards and standardized tests make administrators assume they have to continue to use grades. All it takes, I believe, is many teachers across the nation making the change on their own.

      Not to sound like a rebel, but I didn't ask when I went away from grades. I just did it and explained later. It went over just fine. We need more of this kind of "take-action" attitude in teachers.
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    Jul 24 2011: Salim, I truly appreciate your perspective. Actually, narrative feedback over grades is just one part of a system that answers your questions -- way of teaching, student-teacher interaction, etc. I call it a Results Only Learning Environment, and I've written a book on the subject.

    You can learn all about it at Thanks for shedding some light on the need for change in education.
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    Jul 24 2011: Only elimination of grading system of CERTIFICATION (what you mentioned as education) will not bring much benefit, it needs much mor revolutionary change.
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      Jul 24 2011: Narrative feedback, used properly, in place of all numbers, letters and percentages, is revolutionary. I've researched it and done it in my own classroom. When polled, more than 90% of my students said they prefer narrative feedback over grades. They say it helps them understand learning outcomes far more than receiving a number or letter does.

      With the majority of schools using grades, a sweeping move to eliminate them would certainly be revolutionary.
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        Jul 24 2011: Grading is only one part of the system. What about the way of teaching? Way of choosing students for different subject? Way of teacher student interaction ?

        Your feedback system may be good one and you may also find it revolutionary as it depends on perspective & scale of using a word. Your effort of doing something differently is appreciable.
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          Aug 2 2011: Salim, there is much more to the Results Only Learning Environment than just narrative feedback. You're right about teaching. The ROLE is progressive education that eliminates all traditional teaching and learning. Feedback is one key part.

          Thanks for weighing in on this.
      • Aug 2 2011: Just a note: Some kids use feedback as a way of fibbing to parents, since feedback is not a definite grade, as parents are used to and many grew up with.
        • Aug 8 2011: And some kids use grades, or friends, or excuses, or homework, or movies, or drama, or .... Kids lie.

          And parents are smarter than given credit for WHEN they are engaged and given a chance to understand...
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        Aug 4 2011: Hi Mark
        Good to hear that it's not only change of the "grading system".
        Felt high emphasis on "Grading" only reading the premise. So thought to point out that , we need much more changes if we really want to change.

        Thanks for your effort. Best wishes for your success.
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          Aug 4 2011: Thanks for your kind words, Salim, and for the support.
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        Aug 4 2011: You are welcome Mark.
        You are doing something different , something innovative, which is really great and definitely one day will talk of it's own. It's my honour if my words can have any positive impact on your effort.
        • Aug 4 2011: One of my favorite teachers of all time gave us huge individualized essay and research topics like a carnie would hand out come ons. And his feedback was typed and an-noted. Yikes.

          One of my other favorite teachers only gave one kind of test. He would hand out blank sheets of paper and ask us what we knew about certain broad subjects.

          I learned and retained a TON in those classes and most of the other graduates still talk about it. Back when I was a teacher I tried to live up to those examples.
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        Aug 5 2011: That happens with passion. If someone is passionate with what s/he is doing , s/he finds way to do it in a more impactful, meaningful way despites of all shortcomings of system s/he is in.
    Jan 1 1970:
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      Aug 2 2011: Steven, thanks for the article link and your comments. I have seen and enjoyed the Sal Khan video, too.

      As you might guess, I'm not a fan of grades a symbol, and I don't believe in badges, stickers or smiley faces either. I want learning to be intrinsically motivated.

      In my Results Only Learning Environment, my students stop asking about points and letters a few weeks into class. They also work harder than my past students who were being graded.

      If an A supposedly symbolizes excellence, does this mean an F symbolizes failure? Sure, being excellent seems nice, but who wants their students or children to be known as failures?

      Thanks for commenting.
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        Aug 3 2011: I visited your blog and I like the challenge that you have presented to educators. I hope you don[t mind but I referenced it on hubski and provided a link. You can see it here:

        You are obviously busy here... but you should join the conversation there too. Your expertise would be most welcome in the dialogue.

        Good luck and keep up the good fight!
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          Aug 3 2011: Thanks a lot, Steven. I will check out the other conversation.