What’s a Grade Worth Anyway?

Thursday 2/15: Daily Reflection


What purpose does this grade serve?

Does failure on this assignment indicate something greater than lack of knowledge?

Why wasn’t the student able to complete this task?

What did I do to help create this situation/lack of success?

Is my assignment, assessment, lesson valuable in their eyes? I’d assume that in some disciplines this task is more cut and dry. Science: did my widget that I built work? Art: Does this portrait look accurate?

In the end, what is it that I want my students to learn? Does that have to come from me?

I’m not pretending to have the answers to these questions but I admittedly ponder them on the weekly if not daily. As such I also admit that I can’t change this on my own. But does that matter? Anyway, since this is a stream of consciousness I’m going to continue.

What’s wrong with grades? Well, to begin, they really don’t matter. The idea of a student earning a grade has become antiquated in today’s classrooms as there is such pressure to either pass students or keep up graduation rates, etc. In the end if failure is literally not an option where then does that leave us? Not only that, grades have historically been more about can/does a student comply as opposed to does this student understand? Most teachers will readily agree that tests, especially those that are standardized, lack a true representation of what students know. Thus, why are we still placing such high stakes on our own tests? Assignments aren’t mini summative assessments. They should serve a much greater formative purpose, “what are you learning” versus “what have you learned.” Therefore, why grade them or attribute a score to them that could at some point be detrimental to the students’ sense of accomplishment?

Once we start down this rabbit hole we get stuck in a labyrinth of questioning our practices and, as I do this regularly, I have been contemplating a shift from giving points and grades and moving to simply feedback and self-reflection. As the time nears for me to actually begin “trying” new things as I’ve indicated I will as part of this blog, this shift is really starting to make its way to the top of the list. As I’ve been teaching advanced placement for the past 5 years I have come across a great number of  students that care far more about attaining some arbitrary class rank as opposed to learning and understanding Unites States History. I have made many decisions over the years in an attempt to reduce the student desire to perform well for the purpose of winning high school and the stresses associated with it. However negative effects such academic dishonesty and students upset with the effect a grade has on their GPA resurface regularly. But, this is not the test that I am trying to prepare them for, this is:

“Yeah, about the test...

The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.

...I know, right?” – John Green

The struggle becomes really real when we try to focus our students on the big picture, the future, or how this information will impact humanity at-large yet try to not overlook the lessons, the day-to-day, or the content in between. How do we reconcile one with the other? I’m not sure that I know the answer but I hope to continue looking in an attempt to share my findings, positive and negative, with this professional community.