Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Thoughts on Grades

Grades. This is something that has always been linked to teaching and learning. By always, I of course mean, as long as I have been in school and a teacher. There is a segment of the educational world that is steadfast in their position against giving out grades. Education should be about learning and not obtaining a letter. I agree with people when they say this. I RT all comments during an #edchat that support this concept. After much thought, I think I can't get behind the concept of getting rid of all grades. No grades for anyone doesn't make sense to me. IMHO, grades are not the problem, assessments are the problem.

I had my epiphany early in the year when I realized that my use of MC test and Scantrons were not really helping me assess the learning of my students. It made life easy for me to check tests and assign grades so student and parent could be happy. After doing my 10 Week Experiment, I realized that Project based learning is the way to go. With this type of assessment, I was able to see what students had really learned in a way that a Bubble Test could never show me. I went this route again, with some fine tuning, for my next unit, The Catcher in the Rye. The results so far have been amazing. Kids are actively engaged in the classroom, they are comparing projects and they are commenting on the projects presented. I feel like a good teacher watching these projects come together.

I don't think throwing out the entire grading system is truly going to solve anything. Teaching is what really matters. We can throw out grades, we can give them new meaning, we can assign smiley faces or even assign random symbols. All that truly matters is the way that we teach students and the way we assess them. Students need to be taught to value education. Grades are not the reason students do not value education. I didn't value education because I was a knuckle head, not because the value of an A was too much pressure. The value of a Grade is determined by the level of instruction and assessment. I can say that the value of an A on one of these projects means more than the A a student received last year on a Bubble Test on the same topic.

Getting rid of grading is not going to solve the problem of valuing education or learning. As people, we are always seeking some form of validation for what we do. That validation can come in the form of gold stars, blog comments, Retweets, promotions or letter grades. The value of hard work and a job well done in High School is a letter grade. Earning an A in my class is tough. I'm proud of that fact. I realized that my assessments needed to change to truly challenge my students and assess their learning in a way that allows for self expression and meets my content expectations.

I know that this is not the popular idea, but this is how I feel. Now. I'm an open minded person. If I would have told me two years ago that I needed to move away from MC tests, I would have laughed at myself. (Side note: That would be so weird to hear yourself laugh outside of yourself. Almost like hearing a recording of your own voice. I always sound weird on those things. Anyway...) I think there are many different ways to teach the many different types of students. Differentiation is huge for me. If I want to give letter grades, I'm going to give letter grades. If I want to give smiley faces, I'm going to give smiley faces. I think that there is never a one size fits all solution for the ills of education. Eliminating Grades is not the end all be all solution. I think that is important to remember when we talk about changing the education landscape. 

Remember, It's not the letter we use to end an assessment, it's the assessment we use to arrive at the letter.

- @TheNerdyTeacher