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In my experience, the most impressive teachers are those who despise the whole process of giving grades. Their aversion, as it turns out, is supported by solid evidence that raises questions about the very idea of traditional grading.
Three Main Effects of Grading Researchers have found three consistent effects of using — and especially, emphasizing the importance of — letter or number grades: One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward Kohn, More strikingly, study after study has found that students — from elementary school to graduate school, and across cultures — demonstrate less interest in learning as a result of being graded Benware and Deci, ; Butler, ; Butler and Nisan, ; Grolnick and Ryan, ; Harter and Guzman, ; Hughes et al.
Thus, anyone who wants to see students get hooked on words and numbers and ideas already has reason to look for other ways of assessing and describing their achievement.
Students of all ages who have been led to concentrate on getting a good grade are likely to pick the easiest possible assignment if given a choice Harter, ; Harter and Guzman, ; Kage, ; Milton et al.
The more pressure to get an A, the less inclination to truly challenge oneself. Thus, students who cut corners may not be lazy so much as rational; they are adapting to an environment where good grades, not intellectual exploration, are what count. One series of studies, for example, found that students given numerical grades were significantly less creative than those who received qualitative feedback but no grades.
The more the task required creative thinking, in fact, the worse the performance of students who knew they were going to be graded. In another experiment, students told they would 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, More Reasons to Just Say No to Grades The preceding three results should be enough to cause any conscientious educator to rethink the practice of giving students grades.
Moreover, the basis for that grade is as subjective as the result is uninformative. Even the score on a math test is largely a reflection of how the test was written: It may even be given two different grades by a single teacher who reads it at two different times for example, see some of the early research reviewed in Kirschenbaum et al.
In short, what grades offer is spurious precision — a subjective rating masquerading as an objective evaluation. Grades distort the curriculum. The tail of assessment thus comes to wag the educational dog. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning.
Add up all the hours that teachers spend fussing with their grade books. Then factor in all the mostly unpleasant conversations they have with students and their parents about grades.
Again, we can continue to blame and punish all the students who cheat — or we can look for the structural reasons this keeps happening. Researchers have found that the more students are led to focus on getting good grades, the more likely they are to cheat, even if they themselves regard cheating as wrong Anderman et al.
Consider this lament, which could have been offered by a teacher in your district: Apart from the intrinsic unfairness of this arrangement, its practical effect is to teach students that others are potential obstacles to their own success.
Some students might be motivated to improve their class rank, but that is completely different from being motivated to understand ideas. It is the type of motivation that counts, not the amount. The practical difficulties of abolishing letter grades are real. But the key question is whether those difficulties are seen as problems to be solved or as excuses for perpetuating the status quo.
The logical response to the arguments and data summarized here is to say: First, it is said that students expect to receive grades and even seem addicted to them. Many teachers are loath to give up what is essentially an instrument of control. But even to the extent this instrument works which is not alwayswe are obliged to reflect on whether mindless compliance is really our goal.
Who would be more reluctant to give up grades than a teacher who spends the period slapping transparencies on the overhead projector and lecturing endlessly at students about Romantic poets or genetic codes?
But in any case the premise of this argument is erroneous:High school and college students are very often asked to write an argumentative essay. Such assignment can be related to studying a certain issue, but usually Read More».
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