What if we didn’t give grades?

Part 1

Would the entire educational system collapse? Rampant student laziness and disengagement? Teacher confusion and frustration?

I wonder. I’ve thought a LOT about grades and assessment through my career. Trust me, I get that the whole system runs this way. I get that it’s easy for me to suggest a different way, now that I’m no longer in a traditional classroom. But I’m not some wide-eyed idealist with no experience. I spent over 45 years grading papers, essays, projects, homework, quizzes, and exams. Over 45 years tabulating and calculating grades, both weekly, cumulative, mid-term, formative, and final. Over 45 years assessing student learning, writing and revising rubrics, figuring out learning objectives, scaffolding learning paths…. I know it from the inside out, and the ground up.

The second half of my career, I shifted more and more learning to a project-based model, until the last decade was 100% project-based. I became convinced that the best way for students to demonstrate their learning was by creating something that demonstrated what they knew. However, I still always worked in schools that used grades as the ultimate measuring stick of student learning. So there were always grades that had to be entered into the system.

My solution was to have very detailed rubrics, based on points adding up to 100. Actually, I had the points add up to 90. The extra 10 was the category I called “Mr I’s Category of Extra Awesomeness”. If you did all the basics, you got a 90, which in my school was an A-. Not a bad grade! But if you wanted to earn a higher grade, you had to do something creative and orginal with what you learned. Or maybe add something new that you discovered on your own.

In addition, I always said that points were negotiable. For instance, suppose in your Scratch game, you got 10 points for adding a second level. You didn’t do that. But you did figure out how to make your game 2-player. You could negotiate with me to get those 10 points for that (or more, or less, depending).

Within the grading system, this felt like a reasonable compromise. I had actual grades that I could enter, the students had clear expectations, and there was room for creative fudging and going outside the box.

But at the end of the day, I still wonder if we could do better. Stay tuned for part 2!

1 thought on “What if we didn’t give grades?”

  1. I think fundamental knowledge should have more grading elements.

    Project based when the student is internally motivated…grades should be de-emphasized.

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