High school teachers need to define their grading criteria before the course starts. Grading is explained in the syllabus, presented to students, and shared with parents in the first week of classes. Determining what and how learning will be assessed are the first steps in the backwards design process described in Understanding by Design (2005). They include “-What evidence can show that students have achieved the desired results (Stage 1)? -What assessment tasks and other evidence will anchor our curricular units and thus guide our instruction?” (Stage 2) (Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J., p. 146). Teachers cannot plan or teach without first determining their assessment and grading protocol. Regardless of whether teachers grade using the traditional point system, standards-based, or assessment-based grading, they all end up being translated into the letter grades and Grade Point Averages (GPA) that permeate the public school system.
ISTE standards are intended to improve education by considering the skills students need in the 21st century, yet the research on the effect of grades on these skills has not been extensive. As I dive deeper into ISTE Standard for Students 1a “Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.” I ponder on the following question: What should be graded?
The article Do Grades do any good? from education.com (2009) includes an interview with Alfie Kohn, where he explains several negative effects that grades have on students regarding motivation and learning outcomes. He presents three main negative outcomes that result from grades: 1) student interest in learning is weakened, 2) easier tasks become favored, and 3) learning becomes shallow. Kohn asserts “As far as I can tell, there are absolutely no benefits of giving grades to balance against these three powerful negative consequences” (2009). It is his suggestion to eliminate grades. Kohn is one amongst many experts in the education field that shed light on the negative effects of grades.
The study The role of grades in motivating students to learn (2012) by Emily Stan analyzes the relationship between grades and motivation. The study consisted of the use of a questionnaire that analyzed teacher’s perception towards the effectiveness of grades in motivating students. The study “reveals a significant relation between grades and short-term learning, as well as between grades and external motivation.” Another interesting discovery determined by this study was the correlation between the focus on grades and the motivation students have to please their parents. Often parents are influencing their kids to focus on grades. If all parents receive are letter grades from schools, it is reasonable to assume they would expect their children to focus on getting good grades. Even if a teacher makes significant efforts to direct students’ attention to learning, grades continue to grasp the focus and motivation of students and their parents. To change this focus on grades, teachers need to provide feedback on learning to students and to their parents.
In the article An A for Effort? Grading Grades in the 21st Century, Joe Brooks boldly presents an argument for changing the current grading system. Brooks starts by discussing the goals of education and argues how grades have unintentionally become the goal. Besides the fact that grades are far from being objective and fair, they do not provide the information students need. Brooks explains how life skills such as responsibility, decision making, perseverance, cooperation, independence, sense of self, and positive image are fundamentally important. Grades, as they exist now in K-12 education, hinder such skills, and according to Brooks, “often do more harm than good” (p. 5). The article explains the difference in the role that grades play in a vocational school or university, and how they compare at the K-12 level where there is a significant range of student abilities. Brooks also offers suggestions on how to move beyond grades. He proposes re-evaluating educational goals, differentiated assessment that goes hand-in-hand with differentiated instruction, combining and comparing teacher evaluations with student self-evaluations, and providing useful feedback to students that is completely personalized.
Based on all the research and recommendations from many experts in the field of education, it is reasonable to conclude that grades should not be used in any learning activities or formative assessments. As teachers and administrators begin the integration of 21st century skills and implementation of digital tools to support learning, it is important to consider the negative effects that grades have on learning, because they can deter from the main objectives. Instead of grades, teachers can leverage digital tools to provide valuable personalized feedback. When students articulate and set learning goals, they should be based on specific learning targets rather than grades. When students use technology to achieve their goals, the technology should not provide grades, but rather feedback that is directly related to their goals. When students reflect upon their learning, they should be reflecting not on grades but on what they have learned, the process by which they have learned, and how much they have advanced towards their learning goals.
Brooks, J. (Jan 14, 2019). An A for Effort? Grading grades in the 21st century. Community Works Journal: Digital Magazine for Educators. https://medium.com/communityworksjournal/an-a-for-effort-grading-grades-in-the-21st-century-dba6b1e122a8
Education.com (Mar 12, 2009). Do Grades Do Any Good? https://www.education.com/magazine/article/Grades_Any_Good/
Image retrieved January 24, 2021 from https://medium.com/bits-and-behavior/grading-is-ineffective-harmful-and-unjust-lets-stop-doing-it-52d2ef8ffc47
Image retrieved January 24, 2021 from https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/19/a6/fd/96/mile-marker-timer.jpg
ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Stan, E. (2012). The role of grades in motivating students to learn. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 69, 1998-2003. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.12.156
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.