All Articles Education Voice of the Educator It's time to throw out grades

It’s time to throw out grades

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

SmartBlog on Education will shine a light on back-to-school teaching and learning trends during July. In this blog post, Starr Sackstein challenges traditional grading and assessment systems, calling for a paradigm shift in which educators model the growth mindset and foster conversations about learning. 

Students are actively engaged in the process of learning, asking questions and participating in their assessment. Whether reflecting or self-assessing, students’ increasing metacognitive awareness is helping teachers create individualized plans for growth.

Risks are being taken, and students are no longer asking “what did I get? or what did you give me?” Instead they are having discussions about what they know and can do and are collaboratively working to develop strategies for improvement.

Amid the testing craze, there are pockets of teachers and schools shifting their attentions away from number data toward the enrichment of learning experiences. Students shouldn’t be defined by numbers, they should be encouraged to see learning as an opportunity for continuous growth. Throwing out grades does this.

By de-emphasizing grades, teachers share the chance to focus on what students know and can do and establish protocols for deepening actual learning. This teaches students about mastery standards and determining what kinds of evidence support the development of it. It also encourages students to practice skills using new content to ensure maximum retention through formative feedback and discussion.

How could we possibly grade innovation and creativity? What if instead, we helped students reflect on what they feel they learned and ask for evidence of what they suggest in their work? Consider the shift if teachers read this first or conversed with students about it before determining how well a student did. Feedback could be adjusted to provide specific strategies for areas students want to work on and then they can move at a pace that is appropriate for each of them individually.

We can no longer herd students into a one-size-fits-all model and expect them to succeed. This is no longer the world we live in. Every child has strengths and challenges and they learn at different paces. If we can harness a system that enables students to do what feels right for them — with some pushing to ensure maximum growth –, then we can change the schooling experience.

There will be people who will say this is impossible. They will say kids need grades and so do parents because it is all they know. We can all agree that just because people know something and are comfortable with it, doesn’t mean it is the best paradigm or situation.

Schools need to model the growth mindset and foster conversations about learning, shifting gears away from dangerous evaluative systems that aim to put kids in a box based on how well they do on a test that often doesn’t even come from a teacher. Testing and grades often diminishes the learning process. How can one grade possibly encompass the value of any learning?

If grades are meant to communicate learning, they do a poor job of it. At best, they tell a general picture without a nuance — a picture with blurry lines often heavily shaded with compliance and rule following rather than actual growth. Homework, extra credit and attendance are all things that are factored into grades that water down the true image of learning. In the upcoming school year, we must make a concerted effort to put the emphasis back on what matters and not do what is easy for the sake of ease.

It’s time for all of us to start making big changes in education that support the trends in innovation. Let’s help develop learners in a meaningful way that celebrates growth in a plethora of areas instead of just high grades. Let’s see kids as three dimensional people, ready to expand and grow.

How will you start?

Starr Sackstein currently works at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, N.Y., as a high-school English and journalism teacher. She is the author of Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective and Blogging for Educators . She blogs for Education Week Teacher on “Work in Progress” in addition to her personal blog where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher. Sackstein co-moderates #jerdchat and #sunchat and contributes to #NYedChat. In speaking engagements, Sackstein speaks about blogging, journalism education, throwing out grades and BYOD, helping people see technology doesn’t have to be feared. Follow her @MsSackstein on Twitter.

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