Deconstructing the Grading System

In Alfie Kohn’s article , The Case Against Grades, the author deconstructs the traditional grading system. The author opens up a big wound, pours salt in it and offers lukewarm examples as the balm. While I agree that teaching towards the grade is not the best learning strategy, I am also aware that the traditional grading system is subject to larger systems and bigger issues. For example, if the school system, as a whole, does not agree to change how we evaluate learning, then the individual teacher that elects for a “non-grade” learning environment runs the risk of being terminated or they might jeopardize their school’s position. Now, there is a larger way of being and doing that modern society participates in…and that is risk culture.

Risk culture is fueled by fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of failing school, fear of disappointing one’s parents, fear of lawsuits, fear of not getting into college. The list of fears is neverending, and risk culture is what drives us closer to quantifying success with a rigid grading system. So if we are going to deconstruct the grading system, we should consciously take steps to deconstruct the larger systems that will eventually undermine any advances taken at the sub-system level.

This article left me wondering what was occurring at the higher levels of society—like the school board and the college systems that review the applications of the students participating in a non-grade environment.

Questions to Ponder: What type colleges were willing to accept narrative summaries instead of grades? Did the non-grade teachers have the support of their leadership?

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Deconstructing the Grading System

  1. afa

    I agree with you on having to change the whole system. If my high school didn’t use the traditional grading system, then would I have been accepted into VT? There are a multitude of different variables that would need to be changed for a non-traditional grading system to be affective.

  2. I completely agree with you. There must be a new grading system that analyzes and evaluate the performance.

  3. ezgiseref

    Thank you very much for your post. I really appreciated how you pointed out the way we establish relationship with disciplinary institutions such as school and family. There is no doubt such fear limits our autonomy and limits our ability to act they way we desire, if not to think the way we want. Your question brought my mind, the differences between the learning my experiences in public and private schools. While public schools were packed with hundreds of students, trying to survive through the semester, in private school, not only the teachers but also the students have the space to ask questions, for lengthy discussions, and to express themselves. Maybe, partly, it depends on the distribution of resources.

  4. Qualla

    I loved your description of Kohn’s article “The author opens up a big wound, pours salt in it and offers lukewarm examples as the balm” cause that’s kinda how I felt reading it. It felt like a kick in the stomach at times honestly. The culture of fear is also an important concept as well. In a book about teaching that I really love and recommend by Palmer talked about the sense of fear in the classroom. Not only is there all the fear the students bring into the classroom, but it’s important to realize that we bring our own fear into the room as well as the instructor. Although I agree that the problem generates from the larger system, there are ways we can combat this in our own classroom.

  5. Michelle Soledad

    “fueled by fear…” caught my attention, and not because you had written it in bold letters; it just brought back memories of why I worked so hard to earn whatever grades I had in the past. In hindsight, why couldn’t I have simply worked hard because I truly wanted to learn? I also wonder, what factors contributed to this kind of mentality that I had as a child? You certainly opened interesting points and questions to ponder. Thank you for this post.

  6. Catherine Einstein

    I agree with you on having to change the whole system. If my high school didn’t use the traditional grading system, then would I have been accepted into VT? There are a multitude of different variables that would need to be changed for a non-traditional grading system to be affective.

  7. Jake Keyel

    I’m always interested in this micro/macro connection as well. Changing grading systems in one classroom is clearly insufficient if a whole college or university doesn’t and changing grading at one college leaves students to wonder how their “non-traditional” transcript will look to other graduate programs, jobs, etc. I’m not advocating defeatism, I think efforts to change (or discard grades) are good but an aspect has to be thinking seriously about how to help your students explain their non-traditional transcript.

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