I have never liked the idea of grades.  The idea that a single letter can sum up the totality of 180 days of learning is absurd.  The difference between a C+ and a B- is a tenth or hundredth of a percent, yet it can make or break a scholarship, educational accolade, or a student's identity.  Does that dramatic effect fairly represent a dramatic difference in learning?  Of course not.  Joe Bower and Mark Barnes have become my assessment gurus, specifically pertaining to the abolition of grades and implementation of narrative, formative feedback.  I can't say enough about their thoughtful blogs and courage to practice what they preach. 

My courage is building, and more importantly my frustration with grades is boiling over.  Right now, I grade everything in a one-on-one conversation with students where I offer formative feedback until the desired outcome is reached.  When the student is finished, they choose the grade they feel they earned.  If I agree, it goes in the gradebook. However, since students revise the activity until it is completed (all objectives met), we usually use things like timeliness, creativity, effort, etc. to determine the grade.  (most kids who do their work end up with A-, A, or A+)  Its all starting to seem pointless--I have so much more to say, than a letter grade.

I would rather have students keep a learning journal as a shared Google Doc where they reflect on the completed activity--what they learned, what they could have done better, effort, timeliness, etc.  I could comment and maintain a conversation about their learning and performance.  We could share this Doc with parents, so they could keep up with how their student is doing rather than looking at a single letter every 9 weeks.


  1. I couldn't agree more. It seems like it has become just an unnecessary part of the routine. I really like your idea for a shared document. I was thinking of having the kids as they create their own Math Book in my class for each concept make notes of the mistakes they made. That way later on if they are reviewing they can reflect on their mistakes and remind themselves the correct steps. My only question is how do you convince educators and parents to go with this? All they know is to look at a grade to judge a student. Does this mean no report cards? What if it was the parents responsibility to check on their students progress? Scary thought there. Grades are easy and take a second to show what "they" think is the correct way to show learning. Some things are just not that simple.

    Great post.

    Joey Till

  2. Yeah, I can see how moving from grades to narrative feedback could be a PR nightmare. Just like anything else, you have to sell it. To educators and parents. I think we still will need a simple way to show if they are generally meeting standards, exceeding standards, or need improvement--similar to elementary classes. Why did they ever change?

    I like your ideas of students writing down their mistakes--that is a great way to incorporate meta-cognitive skills.

    Maybe "report cards" mean sending narrative feedback home and having parents comment on student learning and give their feedback... talk about scary!

  3. Hey Justin, thanks so much for a thoughtful post and for the mention. Having students reflect on their learning and on what they produce is remarkably rewarding for all involved. As the school year progresses, even my most reluctant learners have become efficient self-evaluators.

    This results-only learning style, I believe, can definitely lead to the abolition of grades.


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