All things considered, what should your grade be?

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Third in a series on strategies for eliminating traditional grades

The more educators hear about the power of meaningful narrative feedback, the more their interest in feedback over grades grows. 


The question that crops up more than any about eliminating number and letter grades is, “How are report cards handled, if there are no points throughout a marking period?” 

Make it a conversation

When I transitioned my classroom to results-only learning, I stopped placing numbers and letters on every activity and project students ever completed. When time for district-mandated report cards arrived, I met with individual students to discuss their learning during the previous nine weeks.

We would review all activities and projects and discuss the narrative feedback I’d given and the conversations about learning that we’d had. Since students grow up in a system that uses A, B, C, D, F grades, they are keenly aware of how this system works.

I made it clear to them that I had no interest in the report card grade, because I knew how much they had learned. Then I’d say, “All things considered, if we have to assess your learning with a letter, what should it be?”

The students would contemplate the question and the work they’d done and assign themselves a report card grade. Occasionally, I might disagree with them at first, so we’d continue the discussion, but these times were few and far between.

What’s amazing about this is that you’ll find that your students, when taught about the value of self-evaluation, become very critical of their own work, which important for both academic growth and maturation in general.

So, begin assessment by replacing numbers and letters with narrative feedback. Then, when report card time comes, ask your students to grade themselves. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Read the first and second articles in the series

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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