How to Stop Measuring Your Students

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Second in a series on strategies for eliminating traditional grades


The workshop audience, filled with K-12 teachers and administrators, loved the idea of narrative feedback. “I think we all agree that this is good for kids,” one participant said, “but how do we measure achievement?”

This is a common question, brought on in most cases by parental demands, college admissions officers and a political quest to win a mythical global education competition.

How do we measure achievement? Don’t!

Although answering the how-do-we-measure-achievement question with a simple, We don’t, may seem glib, it’s a mindset that teachers need to embrace, if we’re going to win the war on punitive grades.

Once educators understand that achievement can’t be measured with simple numbers, percentages or letters, evaluating learning becomes easy.

The picture above is as misleading as any graphic can be. The numbers say nothing about learning, because we don’t know how these students are being evaluated, although it is definitely with some kind of standardized test.

One must wonder what factors contribute to some groups being at the bottom of the graph. Might it be that a student who is hungry can’t concentrate on a test? Is it possible that others come from crime-ridden neighborhoods, and concern over their own safety far outweighs the questions on a multiple-choice test?

Evaluation should always be done with feedback

So, stop measuring. If your school mandates high stakes tests throughout the year, ignore all other testing until those tests arrive. Stop grading papers, projects and participation.

Engage students with interactive lessons, collaboration and technology integration. Then, converse with them about learning.

When someone says, “How do you measure achievement?” Tell them you don’t. Explain that students provide work product based on mini lessons; you observe constantly, and discuss what is learned and what is not.

Ask students, perched conspicuously at the bottom of the graph above, what they have learned, instead of handing them a paper-and-pencil test. You’ll be amazed by their answers.

Read the first article in this series here

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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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