What if... new grading philosophy?

Photo by  Chris Liverani  on  Unsplash

What if your school announced a grading philosophy like this?

"The primary reason for assessment at our school is to help you learn better. If you receive an assessment that gets in the way of your learning, please tell your teacher right away so that together we can figure out another way to assess you for learning."

*Inspired by Arnie Bieber's "Learners at the Centre: Opt-in Gradeless Prototype at the International School of Prague." For relevant insights, see excerpts below.


"* Grades tend to diminish students' interest in whatever they're learning. A 'grading orientation' and a 'learning orientation' have been shown to be inversely related and, as far as I can tell, every study that has ever investigated the impact on intrinsic motivation of receiving grades (or instructions that emphasize the importance of getting good grades) has found a negative effect.

"* Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task. Impress upon students that what they’re doing will count toward their grade, and their response will likely be to avoid taking any unnecessary intellectual risks. They'll choose a shorter book, or a project on a familiar topic, in order to minimize the chance of doing poorly — not because they're 'unmotivated' but because they're rational. They're responding to adults who, by telling them the goal is to get a good mark, have sent the message that success matters more than learning.

"* Grades tend to reduce the quality of students' thinking. They may skim books for what they'll 'need to know.' They're less likely to wonder, say, 'How can we be sure that's true?' than to ask 'Is this going to be on the test?' In one experiment, students who were told they'd be graded on how well they learned a social studies lesson had more trouble understanding the main point of the text than did students who were told that no grades would be involved. Even on a measure of rote recall, the graded group remembered fewer facts a week later (Grolnick and Ryan, 1987)."


Each Wednesday we share a "what if" scenario. These are not suggestions as much as provocations.

If you have a "what if" scenario you would like to share, just send an email (and indicate whether you would like it attributed it to you).


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Christian Talbot