TED Conversations

Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education


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Isn't it time to eliminate grades in education?

Give a student an F, she's learned nothing. Giver her an A, and what has she learned? Still nothing. Grades are subjective crutches, used by teachers because they either do not know any better, or because they are forced to give them by an archaic system.

Grades should be replaced by meaningful narrative feedback, which helps students understand what learning outcomes have or have not been mastered. Feedback also encourages learning, while grades only stifle it.

It's time for grades to be eliminated.


Closing Statement from Mark Barnes

This conversation was a remarkable experience -- one that gave me plenty to think about and to write about in my upcoming book (ROLE Reversal, ASCD 2012). I believe that many people here seem at least open to the idea of moving beyond the subjective, punitive grading system that we use today. Some still believe that grades are the only way to evaluate learning. It appears from the discussion that, in most cases, this is because they haven't been exposed to formative assessment and self-evaluation over summative testing and grades. Grades are a measuring tool, and not a very good one. The problem is not just grading but the idea that measurements are necessary in the first place. Learning should never be measured. Rather, it should be shared, discussed and evaluated openly; these discussions should be accompanied by objective feedback that guides students to other possibilities and to reflection and self-evaluation.

Upon consideration of all comments here, I remain steadfast in my belief that education needs ongoing narrative feedback. Any other system is arrogant and a mistake.

Thanks to all who participated.

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  • 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.
    • thumb
      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

        • 0
        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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