Grading reform is near and dear to my heart. I am a huge advocate of healthy grading practices that support learning for our students. Yet I still get asked the questions – Why should I change the way I grade? What difference does it make how I grade? Grading doesn’t impact the way I teach or my students learn, does it?
The truth is, grading has a huge impact on our kids. It sets the tone for classrooms and schools, and suggests where students’ focus should lie. The way we view and practice grading communicates its importance. Should a major emphasis be placed on grades, scores, and points? Of course not – but many teachers and administrators don’t realize how much traditional grading practices interfere with the learning process. Grading is what makes many kids nervous to come to our classrooms and be assessed. Grading makes it easy for some kids to hide behind numbers and good behaviors for proficient marks. Grading contributes to fearfulness of risk taking and trying something new. Wait a minute…if our students never try something new, how are they learning? How are they growing? How are they preparing for the next steps in their educational experience?
In order to shift the focus from grades to learning, educators must lead the way and demonstrate its positive impact. Students need to see that motivation exists and is enhanced when grades are in the background. So many of us have spent countless hours developing our scales, weights, and points for every assignment and assessment, but the time can be much better spent. The time should be used to create valuable learning experiences and to provide opportunities for kids to take risks, try new ideas, and maybe even fail a few times on the road to success. Students need us to lead the charge and show that there is more to education than point chasing and high stakes assessment. They require a role model in the classroom that not only values learning, but also what each student contributes to the process.
When we make this change, feedback becomes the norm for new growth and achievement. Authentic self-assessment becomes a purposeful endeavor that previously may have seemed like a doubtful guess at a point total. When we do assign a grade, it carries accuracy and meaning. Scores and grades are criterion referenced, evidence based and defensible to all stakeholders. The mystery of how grades are determined vanishes and we ensure an honest, genuine reflection of learning. With the abundance of feedback prior to assessment, students develop confidence in their abilities.
So, after all this enthusiasm toward grading reform, what perpetuates stagnation? What compels so many to continue using a traditional grading system that maintains a competitive, extrinsically motivated (or extrinsically unmotivated) culture? Is it the fact that grading is personal for educators and can seem like the only piece of our practice that is autonomous? Is it a power struggle for teachers to keep ‘control’ of student behavior? Is it that many retain a fixed mindset and fear unfamiliar territory?
So I return to the question at hand…Why should I change how I grade? To be a role model of progress for students. To find healthy grading practices that support learning. To take on old traditions that undermine a focus on growth. To make a difference for each student that is bored, unmotivated, or inappropriately challenged. To communicate that learning supersedes everything else, and lasts for a lifetime.