4 Reasons Teachers are Going Gradeless
In a recent article for Teen Vogue, Zach Schermele describes how the “gradeless” movement, which seeks to move classrooms away from a traditional percentage-and-letter-grade system in favour of a more holistic approach to assessment—using, for example, standards-based grading models, competency-based models, or portfolios—is gaining traction across the country.
According to detractors, this shift is the result of an overreliance by schools and districts on high-stakes grading as the primary indicator of student progress—which, in turn, places the emphasis on attaining a good mark rather than where it should be: on the messy process of learning. Other critics of the practise argue that teachers spend far too much time grading—and justifying those grades with reams of feedback—leaving them with far too little time to devote to the more important duty of planning and delivering lessons to students. Students, particularly struggling learners, have been shown to become unmotivated and frustrated when teachers place an excessive emphasis on grading, according to study.
Listed below are four justifications given by teachers for moving away from the standard grading system:
EVEN HIGH PERFORMERS ARE OFTEN STRESSED AND MISERABLE
Gina Benz, an English teacher at a private high school, switched to a gradeless approach two years ago after numerous AP students she knew were admitted to the hospital. Her desire to maintain a high GPA, achieve an excellent ACT score, and gain admission to a certain college was taking its toll, Benz said to Schermele, who also pointed out that her own heavy workload played a role in her decision to make the switch. According to Benz, she began teaching in a way that allowed her pupils to “try out ideas, make discoveries, and embrace failure in a learning atmosphere where learning is transformative, rather than transactional.” Her students began to realise the advantages of her high-quality comments rather than simply “slapping a letter or number at the top of an evaluation,” and their “love of learning” and “mental wellness” improved as a result.
And, according to Benz, their AP test results did not suffer as a result.
THE BURDEN OF GRADING CRUSHES INNOVATION IN TEACHING
The time that instructors spend grading is “time that we do not have to spend teaching,” according to the National Education Association. We’ve all been in a scenario when grading is piling up, and we’ve all assigned the class an assignment to complete in order to make time for grading. This is incorrect. And it should be the other way around,” argues Andrew Miller, a teacher at Singapore American School who serves as the school’s director of individualised learning. “Teaching and learning should take precedence over grading and recording grades in grade books,” says the author.
The findings of a 2014 study by Kimberly Tanner and Jeffrey Schinske, who examined the history and research on grading procedure, are identical to those of the previous study. “The amount of time and energy spent on grading has frequently been identified as a significant obstacle to educators becoming more creative in their instruction. When the responsibilities of grading occupy so much of an instructor’s attention, they discover that “little time remains for thought on the structure of a course or dreams of pedagogical reform.” There are various opportunities for faculty members to make assessment and evaluation more productive, more aligned with student learning, and less stressful for both staff and students that lie beneath the less encouraging news regarding grades.
The use of grades can both undermine student engagement and encourage students to learn in a more superficial manner.
Aaron Blackwelder, a high school English teacher who was influenced by experts such as Alfie Kohn, made the decision to switch to a gradeless classroom nine years ago. His “Aha!” moment occurred at a student-teacher conference, during which he asked a student to evaluate an essay that she had written for the conference. There was no debate on the work’s strengths or what could be done to improve it, according to Blackwelder, who co-founded the website Teachers Going Gradeless, according to Schermele. “It was a dialogue about a grade rather than about learning… ” “I understood the issue was with grades and grading,” I explained.
When Cleveland State University lecturer Marcus Schultz-Bergin began investigating the impact of traditional grading on student motivation and performance, he discovered that it was possible to achieve a gradeless classroom. The professor advised Schermele that grades “tend to put an end to the student caring about the task,” whereas feedback “tends to maintain a conversation.” “The vast majority of professors and students despise grades, but they recognise that there is no alternative. “The vast majority of people appear to recognise the flaws in the current system and long for a better system, but they do not believe that anything else is conceivable.”
GRADING CAN UNDERMINE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTE SUPERFICIAL LEARNING
Scott Looney, the head of the Hawken School in Cleveland, was dissatisfied with his school’s A-F grading system, and he joined with 28 other independent schools to form the Mastery Transcript Consortium in 2017. The consortium’s goal is to phase out traditional graded transcripts in favour of digital, interactive portfolios that show academic and enrichment skills, areas of growth, and samples of students’ work.
“The objective of school is not to sort children; it is to grow children,” Looney says in an interview with Edutopia. “They must guide and advise students, but when it comes to grades, teachers become judges. I believe that we can demonstrate the diverse capacities of children without categorising them.” 157 schools have since joined the association, including prestigious institutions such as Phillips Exeter Academy and more recent institutions such as the Khan Lab School of Innovation and Technology. Major colleges have indicated a willingness to accept non-traditional academic records without imposing any penalties on students, undercutting one of the few remaining arguments for the superiority of traditional letter grades in higher education.
Meanwhile, the movement to modernise student evaluation across the country is gathering momentum. At least 16 state legislatures and boards of education have approved policies to encourage public schools to explore beyond traditional grading systems when assessing student proficiency, according to the National Education Association.