4 Reasons Every Teacher Wants to Stop Grading

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I want to stop grading

photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

If given the opportunity all teachers would stop grading their students. You’ll never find a teacher who loves grading papers, projects or tests. In 20 years as a classroom teacher, I heard more complaints about grading than anything else.

So, if they hate it so much, why don’t teachers stop grading? Because parents, administrators, and bureaucrats won’t let them.

Still, teachers abhor traditional assessment and will stop grading the second they’re given an alternative, like SE2R feedback.

Are you skeptical about this somewhat secret desire to stop grading students? Let me clarify.

4 reasons teachers want to stop grading

1-Grading is long on time and short on reward

Unless you’re running a bubble test through a scanner, grading papers, labs, and projects can take an immense amount of time. For teachers who have 120 or more students, grading one assignment can take up to 10 hours. Then, the activity is returned, and many students say “Why did you give me a D?” Students with low grades blame the teacher, students with high grades take all the credit, and those in the middle–C grades–are happy to receive neither praise nor punishment. There’s very little return on investment here.

2-Grading is an inexact science

Some teachers love to argue that grades are fair, because they are based on a purportedly-objective formula. The problem is that all rubrics, numbers and letters are subjective. The teacher makes all of the decisions about the assignment and the assessment tool, leaving the student’s voice out of a non-existent conversation. In the end, opinion always plays a role. In many cases the teacher’s final judgment is subconscious. She doesn’t even realize that the only reason Emily got that A is because she’s perceived as an A student–just like Johnny has always been a D student, no matter what the numbers say.

3-Grading is nothing more than basic math, or is it?

My daughter recently got a D- on a 10-point quiz. She answered seven items correctly, and she forgot to answer one question. According to the teacher’s answer sheet, Lauren answered 70 percent of the items correctly, only to see a bright D- on her work. She actually cried, because she’s been conditioned by a traditional education system that anything less than a B means she’s stupid. In another school, her 70% would have been a C. Some teachers would have reminded her to answer the blank item, and her score could have gone to 80% and a B. This basic math can be manipulated many ways. Ultimately, the numbers say nothing about what Lauren learned that day–other than perhaps her teacher believes that she is a poor student.

4-Grading has absolutely nothing to do with learning

“She’s an A student,” was the guidance counselor’s description of a young lady I asked about one year. When I mentioned another student, she said, “Oh, he’s a D.” Just what do these letters mean? In 20 years as a classroom teacher, I’ve known A students who couldn’t put three coherent sentences together and often shrugged when asked to answer a complex question. They were very good at finishing assignments and giving back information on multiple choice tests. One year, I had a student who failed a grade and was steadily making D’s and F’s in his return to the seventh grade. I noticed this kid devoured books; he always preferred reading to other class work. He and I had some of the most thought-provoking conversations I’d ever had with a 12-year-old. To the average onlooker, he was a failure. To me, he was a brilliant young man, who hated traditional education. His grades said nothing about his learning, just as those A’s say little about the so-called “good” students.

Ask teachers to share something good about their students, and few if any will talk about grades. They’ll share stories of legitimate success. They’ll tell of the shy kid who spoke up in class one day and of the perceived bully who cried during a sad movie.

Ask teachers about assessment, and most will say. If only I could stop grading, teaching would really be fun.

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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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