Back in january I tweeted:
The more time I spend in education the less important I think grades are. Is there anyone who thinks grades are more important now than they used to?
— Dean Shareski (@shareski) January 18, 2019
In the long thread that followed, very few replies were wholeheartedly in favour of grades. Most ranged from seeing them as a necessary evil, to “Grades hurt more than help. They say little to nothing about anything.”
Over the past few decades there has been a clear shift in Canadian education to rethink assessment. Shifts towards assessment for and as learning, and to reduce the impact of grading, reflect the belief that school should be about growth and not ranking students. Some schools and districts have even made the leap and given up grades, and our late colleague Joe Bower was a great champion for the gradeless classroom.1
While the vast majority of educators see this change as positive, it’s important to recognize the challenges and questions that most schools face, which primarily concern: 1) post-secondary requirements, 2) parent response and 3) impact on student motivation. The trend is clear: Most educators believe grades are a poor representation of learning and yet many can’t figure out how to either de-emphasize or get rid of them entirely.
At Wilkes University, I designed and now teach a graduate course called “Sustaining Digital Literacy.” I’ve taught the course about 15 times now. I play the game and comply with the university’s standards, but I’m clear with my students that I don’t value them. To that end, I’ve shifted to full-on self-assessment. Unless someone is completely delusional, whatever grade they justify, they get. I’ve yet to find any students who are delusional.
My course – and I believe any teaching – comes down to three questions:
- What do I know now I didn’t know before?
- What can I do now I couldn’t do before?
- Why does it matter?
That’s it. For the most part, grades have not been an issue in my teaching. I fully appreciate and understand those who aren’t ready to go full on with no grades, but for those who pay attention to the research and want to move forward with change, I encourage you to begin your exploration.
Resources shared in response to my tweet
“Grading, Reporting, and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms” (2016)
“A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools” (2014)
First published in Education Canada, March 2019