Teaching Opinion

Traditional Grading Habits Drive Me Crazy

By Starr Sackstein — April 16, 2017 2 min read
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Once you’ve seen something done a different way, it’s certainly challenging to go back to the way things have always been done and even catching glimpses can be uncomfortable.

Denial becomes impossible once you’ve seen through the mist.

Since I’ve started my journey away from traditional grading, I’ve had to work hard to remain patient with those who aren’t there yet.

Grading is a deeply rooted tradition inside of most school systems and even deeper inside of most of the people who reside within them. Between the experiences they’ve had as students themselves and strongly held beliefs about justice and equality among their students, a good deal of teachers have a hard time even conceptualizing letting go of numbers and letters associated with learning.

Honestly, I’m not even sure how much they value these fairly meaningless numbers and letters until someone tries to suggest they should be removed.

Students, of course, aren’t guilt-free in this equation either. Grades define them, for better or for worse and when grades are used as rewards or punishment, it helps them know where they stand in different settings. Even if that standing doesn’t make any logical sense with what they know and can do, students are willing to accept what is given to them because it is easier than actually discussing learning in a meaningful way.

I’m not pointing fingers though... I was one of those students and then one of those teachers too until I couldn’t be any longer.

And now that I’ve turned a corner, listening to others talk about grading in such a random and meaningless way actually generates a lot of emotion within in me that is hard to contain. So much so that not saying something is a challenge.

One thing I have learned, however, is that you can’t force someone to see something a different way, especially a deeply held belief, until they are ready to listen.

So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and only engage when I feel I can offer a productive solution that can at least let them consider alternatives.

Here are some of the questions I might ask to redirect:

  • What is the criteria for the grade you are suggesting?
  • Is the learning reflected in the final number?
  • Should you be deducting points for behavior or lateness?
  • What are you trying to communicate with the grade you are giving?
  • Does the student have any idea about how he/she is doing in your class? He does he/she know? How do you know?
  • What role does the student play in determining the final assessment of learning?
  • Are the grades anchored by the standards?
  • Do students have the opportunity to redo work to show growth?

Since grades are largely arbitrary and subjective, we need to work hard to anchor the communication in facts and have some agreed upon criteria that will reflect the level of mastery each student is achieving.

What do you do to ensure that the communication of learning is reflective of actual mastery and not mere compliance? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.