14 Reasons You Can’t Throw Out Grades and One Reason You Must

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frustrated

Brace yourself. This is a rant. I’m angry. I’ve got a blog. You are here–at least for a moment. So, I’m going to vent a little. But we’re friends, right? I know I can count on you to listen and to provide a little feedback.

However, if you read this post’s title and came looking for a soft touch to validate you for clutching some conservative teaching method, you might want to tune into Rush Limbaugh, because there won’t be any conservative education here.

Deep breath. Exhale.

Oh, no, that’s not it. The rant is just beginning.

I want teachers to throw out grades. Of course, you know this. I’ve written books about it; I’ve blogged about it; I delivered a TED talk on it; I even started a Facebook group, dedicated to the no-grades movement. It has thousands of members. People seem supportive.

So, what am I upset about? I’m frustrated that this idea–hardcore, game-changing education reform–is moving glacially slow. I’ve had it with the excuses. I want people to step up, show some courage, and stop whining.

Every day, it’s more excuses for not changing how we assess learning. I say the GPA is the most dangerous tool in education, and people applaud. They pat me on the back and say, “Right on, man. You tell ’em.” Then the excuses come.

You can’t throw out grades. You say you want to, but you just can’t. But you’ve got your reasons. Of course, you do. So let’s examine them.

14 Reasons You Can’t Throw Out Traditional Grades

1 – My principal won’t let me

Seriously? What principal really has any control over what you do in your own classroom, behind your four walls with the door closed?

2 – My kids have to pass the test

Standardized testing has absolutely nothing to do with grades.

3 – We still have report cards

And I still have a pencil, but I don’t write my blog in a spiral notebook.

4 – Parents need to know how their children are progressing

Great! Tell them.

5 – My students want grades

That’s because they don’t understand the alternative. They’ve been brainwashed their entire lives to believe that a number or letter actually says something about their learning.

6 – I’m judged by how much my students learn

Wonderful. You should be. So, help your students become independent learners, and they’ll love you. And they are the only judges who matter.

7 – I have to know that my students understand the content

So, ask them if they do. Yes! It is that simple. “Hey, Nina, what did you learn?”

8 – I don’t have time to give 130 students feedback

Why?

9 – I give tests, and they have to have grades

So stop giving tests. They reveal even less about learning than grades.

10 – Everyone else at my school gives grades

It’s because they don’t know any better or they’re afraid. Is this the bandwagon you want to ride?

11 – I teach math

This doesn’t mean you can’t talk to students about what they’ve learned. Now, go solve an equation.

12 – My students are confused

Good! Confusion leads to collaboration and problem-solving — valuable pieces of a no-grades classroom.

13 – I honestly don’t know how to do it

That’s not an excuse. It’s a cry for help and the first step toward change.

14 – I might fail

You’ll definitely fail–more than once. But that’s the only way you can truly succeed.

If you’ve read this far, you are likely more ready to eliminate traditional grades than you know. Or, maybe you’re dying to get to the comment section to call me a bunch of ugly names. Or, perhaps your curiosity got the best of you, and you had to see the one reason you absolutely must stop grading your students. Well, I’m still mad, so I’m not going to tell you. . . just kidding. I’ll tell you.

One Reason You Must Throw Out Grades

1 – You will change the world

I know. You’re probably thinking, I waited this long for a platitude. Before you dismiss this reason as utopian and unreasonable, think about it.

Imagine teaching even a few students that they are more than a number or a letter. Imagine kids who never ask, “What’s it worth?” Imagine a beautiful, rich conversation about learning that never alludes to grades.

Now, imagine that your colleague sees this awe-inspiring transformation and says, “Hey, I’m going to try this.” Her students, like yours, forget everything they’ve ever known about traditional grades.

Next year, your principal wants a school-wide policy of no grades. Your whole school district suddenly throws out grades. Word spreads, and other teachers begin this grand experiment.

It starts with you. And this possibility alone is one incredible reason that you must throw out grades. Don’t wait. Forget reasons you can’t do it; we’ve dismissed them. Go and change the world.

Okay, I’m done ranting. What’s on your mind?

To learn more, check out Assessment 3.0: How to Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning.

Grab your free copy

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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