It’s back to school for millions of students this week after a school year of unprecedented disruption and with the traditional grading systems and report card one of the main casualties. But some educators say this past year’s abandonment of letter grades and grade point averages has been a good thing and is key to reforming the education system. They say that for decades research has shown that traditional grading systems decrease student learning by shifting their attention from deep learning to how to play and win at the game of school. Giving out grades reduces student interest in knowledge for its own sake as well as the desire to take on challenges. Rather than providing a fair and helpful snapshot of a student’s progress, grades only succeed in capturing the inequity and bias that afflicts our education systems. Supporters of traditional grading approaches respond that grades, especially when paired with individualized comments, provide a valuable feedback tool that is fundamental to a successful education system. Grades that are based on clearly defined learning goals address the problem of teacher bias and provide an honest answer to the key question on every student’s mind: how am I doing? Grades also communicate this important information to parents and to higher learning establishments with limited enrolment. Most importantly grades reward effort, a key pillar for a fair and just education system and the broader society it feeds.
Arguing for the motion is Alfie Kohn, an education lecturer and author of many books on parenting and education including Punished by Rewards and The Schools Our Children Deserve.
Arguing against the motion is Tom Guskey, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, and an international expert on student assessment. He has also published many books, most recently Get Set, Go! Creating Successful Grading and Reporting Systems and What We Know About Grading: What Works, What Doesn't, and What's Next.
Sources: City News, King 5, First Coast News, ABC 10 News, ASCD, CBC, CESA 2
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