Back in the day I wrote a time or two about grades and grading. I'm currently reading a seemingly unrelated book that made me think about grades and grading through a new lens. For whom are we grading? The most common answers seem to be for colleges, for parents, and for students. Perhaps we should take a little time and look at each of those more closely.
It is certainly true that college admission's officers like them a good GPA. But it's also true that there are quite a few high schools that don't use grades and their students still get into college. So clearly grades aren't required to get into college, they are just a convenient shortcut for admissions officers (and perhaps also for high school counselors and teachers). And, of course, only about 30% of students in the United States complete a four-year degree, so we're definitely not grading for college for the other 70%.
Many parents certainly do seem to care about grades. Or do they? I think many parents want to know the following:
- Is my student learning?
- Are they working hard?
- Are they being a good human?
- Is my kid going to be okay?
Grades really don't answer any of those questions particularly well, especially in comparison to other information we can provide to parents.
While there are certainly some students who don't appear to care about grades, most teachers would say that a large number of students care about grades on a scale from moderately to intensively. But, much like their parents, I think what they really want to know is the following:
- Am I learning?
- Do you think I'm being a good kid?
- Do my teacher and my peers like me and do I fit in?
- How can I keep my parents off my back?
- Am I going to be okay?
Grades certainly can be used to keep parents off your back, but do a really poor job of addressing the other four, again especially in comparison to other kinds of feedback we can give them.
So for whom are we grading? Perhaps it's for us, for teachers. If that's the case, then why is that? Maybe it's for some of the following reasons:
- Because we've always done it that way.
- Because it's really hard to give more meaningful feedback and if we didn't have grades we'd have to figure out a better, more difficult, more time-intensive way to fulfill the various purposes of grades.
- Because grades are one way to help control and manage a classroom of students who often don't want to be there.
- Because if we got rid of grades, what else might we have to take a look at and perhaps change? We might have to examine all of the assumptions we currently hold and even reexamine what we even believe to be the purpose of school (or, perhaps more accurately, the purpose of education). That's scary.
I wonder how you would grade those answers?