Why Edutopia Is Right About Assessment But Wrong About Grades

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grades quote - Brilliant or Insane

The title of an Edutopia blog post — “When Grading Harms Student Learning” — hooked me instantly.

Wonderful, I thought, a reputable source is lending credence to an idea that has been gaining traction for some time now: Grading is indeed harmful to learning.

I couldn’t start reading fast enough. Sadly, about 10 seconds into the post, I reached the end of the first paragraph and realized that Edutopia had undermined this important message in part of one sentence:

Yes, grades should and can reflect student learning. . . .Edutopia

With eight words at the end of the first paragraph, Edutopia buries the lead and obscures the message I believe it intended to convey — that assessment has nothing to do with grading.

Author Andrew Miller, a smart educator and excellent writer, deftly illustrates the damage done by assigning zeroes, deducting points for late work, and grading practice assignments. He also brilliantly explains the value of formative assessment and transparency:

Districts and schools often call for frequent grades so that students, parents, and other stakeholders know what a child knows, and what he or she needs to learn next. This is a great intent. In fact, we should formatively assess our students and give everyone access to the “photo album” of learning rather than a single “snapshot.”Edutopia

Still, it’s tough to get past those eight devastating words that precede the title and everything else that Edutopia gets right about assessment.

The Edutopia post received many comments from educators and parents — most advocating for alternative grading practices, rather than legitimate assessment. Sadly, it seems that readers, as suggested earlier, have missed the message.

I applaud Edutopia and Miller for emphasizing the harm that grades do to learners and for getting it right about quality formative assessment.

Unfortunately, in eight words at the beginning of the post, Edutopia gets it wrong about grades, which do not, in any circumstance, reflect student learning.

And in less than a sentence, all good intentions may have been lost.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books 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 140,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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