Is this blog post for a grade?

The first time I heard about a college that didn’t give out grades, I had a knee jerk, dismissive and appalled reaction. My friend told me about a college in Scotland where students were graded only on a pass/fail basis; it seemed so odd. How do they measure students? Would the students even come to class if they weren’t being regularly measured on their understanding of the concepts? Would they learn anything?

In the readings for this week, we were introduced to the concept of grade-free learning. To be fair, this differs a bit from the college which I mentioned earlier. The college based their pass/fail decision on an end of semester test with a minimum score that demonstrated proficiency. The concepts we were introduced to were much more comprehensive in their measurement standards, but my initial reaction was the same. Would this actually work? Will they really learn?

Then, I watched the video from Dan Pink about how motivation works. In his TED talk, he explained how the carrot and stick model of motivation, which companies use quite often to motivate their employees, often stifles creativity and lowers productivity. Afterwards, I watched a video by Sir Kennith Robinson. In which, he talks about how we educate our children from the waist up until we are only focused on educating their right brain. He then argues that this sort of education is limits students in their creativity and ability to overcome being wrong. He also argues that the model of education worked to train pupils for factory work but is inadequate for preparing students for the modern era.

The other reading that stuck out to me from this week was the one by Alfie Kohn. He argues that we have known the grading system to be problematic since the 1930s, yet we have continued to use it.

My initial negative reaction to the grade free system can be boiled down into two parts. One is the aversion to change, and two is the lack of a clear picture of what grading does to the student. I had this idea that we must be using this system for so long because it works and is the best option we have available. Why would we change something that doesn’t need changing? I’m realizing now the naivety of that viewpoint. If our goals as educators is to provide an education that engages the whole student, then it seems that change is what is necessary.

The Case Against Grades (##)

9 thoughts on “Is this blog post for a grade?”

  1. Thanks for your post. I was surprised too by Kohn’s comments regarding how long we’ve known about the issue with our grading system. Kind of goes to show how hard it has been to find a system that works and everyone agrees is worth changing to.
    We STILL dont have a single concept of what an ideal school assessment (or non-assessment) model looks like. Haha, kind of like every other area of politics and social discussion. We agree something must be done but dont agree on what to do so we just keep things the status quo. Interesting to see what changes in the next decade(s) with grading though.

    1. As someone coming from the corporate F&B world I understand that there must be a mix of transactional (carrot/stick) and transformational leadership to make a department function to it’s fullest extent. I can’t tell you how excited the staff would get when they win a free meal for having the highest sales of an item, the best attendance, the highest Forbes audit, etc. I think there is a lot to say for setting standards and rewarding top performers but at the same time that is primarily to make a work environment fun and not monotonous. In the education setting I think there must also be a fair mix. Not sure how to go about it exactly but I love the conversations it is starting!


      Cheers, Lehi

  2. Thanks for your post. you made a good point about aversion to change the current system. Just knowing that the educational system is partially working for some, does not really justify the fact that we have to keep the system as it is. Thanks.

  3. I think a lot of people in the education system probably think exactly what you said at the end, why change something that is working? I think a majority of people don’t see something wrong with the way students learn currently. So aside from us as future educators changing our teaching philosophy, I think we need to do some extra work to change the system as a whole.

  4. If your blog post is graded, then is my response graded too? We must go deeper.

    I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to catch that the current education isn’t helping us be wrong. Thinking about it though, I get it. You put down a good/right enough answer and you get the points. You do this you expect that. It’s like the student’s are Pavlov’s dogs, salivating as they meet whiz through the rubric in anticipation of a good grade. Who are we to deny our students that hit of dopamine? Then you are wrong and you get mad, and as another blog mentioned we focus our energy on the grader, not the material. Maybe you aren’t wrong, maybe you haven’t sufficiently explained your thoughts for others to comprehend. That could be where actually reading the feedback on assignments comes back into play, rather than just looking to the grade.

  5. One thing that I find particularly interesting is that we tend to use the same grading system regardless of what we are trying to assess. I think it is important that learning environments, outcomes (I typically think of broader outcomes such as problem-solving, effectiveness in communicating, etc.), and assessments are aligned. If we are wanting students to be able to solve problems, to be creative, to consider multiple perspectives, to understand the impact of different designs, etc., it does not make sense to give a grade for the right answer. Yet that is what we do in many fields. In these situations, other assessments would allow for a better idea of the progress students are making and areas of improvement. There may be times, however, when it makes sense to give students quick feedback or for students to practice a procedure and get feedback on whether they got the expected answer. I think we should be intentional about what types of assessments we are using.

  6. Thanks for this post! I was surprised as well when I ready about “gradeless” programs. How in the world can students be evaluated? In some ways, it still does not make sense. For example, I would not want to go to a doctor who barely “passed” all of his/her/their classes … but how would anyone know this if courses were just pass/fail. On the other hand, the majority of jobs (once you have a graduate degree at least), do not appear to have nearly as much interest in GPAs. They are interested in our experiences, interviews, and recommendations. That should tell us something.

  7. I completely agree with the points you emphasized in this blog. First of all, yes, I blog or comment for the grade. But this is because I grew up in the grade -oriented educational system and learned to compete for grades which significantly degrade creativity and deep learning. But you asked good questions about why we should change it and why we did not change it from the 1930s or how we want to change it. I also can see the naivety in learning-oriented learning and how the learning will be assessed in this system?

  8. Thank you for your post. You included many important points regarding how we all are skeptical towards grade-free education since it has engraved in us that grades are the best tools for measuring learning objectives. Like many other internalized values, we seldom question our beliefs about grading and how it can be detrimental to creativity and learning itself. I really appreciate that you brought this point up, because many of us are not brave enough to be as self-reflective!

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