What if we didn’t ever use grades with students?

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I have already blogged on how I think data should be more about the learner and what’s happening in their learning, the current mindset on grades and also how we could report without any grades or levels. Students are focused on grades and in some cases they mean more to them than formative feedback. My own small research shows this:

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Students value a grade/level more than formative comments.

This makes me consider,

What if we never give, refer to or report any numbers?

From a secondary point of view, key stage 3 is the simplest so I will consider key stage 4/5.

Most schools use key stage 2 data to look at progress through to key stage 4 using this from the DfE to decide if it is less/as/more than expected progress.

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Teachers and consequently students are under pressure to move their grade towards at least expected. This method relies on teachers knowing what a student needs to do in their work to move on a grade, two grades etc  There is pressure on teachers to ensure the student is ‘on track’ and sometimes the pressure means that teachers add inflated predictions to the data collection system.

Grades seem to have a power to change attitudes and behaviour but not necessarily for the good. Lots of research has been done on the impact of summative feedback over grades.

Kohn sums up the key issues with grading:

  1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself
  2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks.
  3.  Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking
  4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective.
  5. Grades distort the curriculum.
  6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning
  7. Grades encourage cheating.
  8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students.
  9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other

So I propose we consider dropping how grades are used by most schools at the moment and consider the impact of a different model.

What are the alternatives?

  1. Give feedback first, then grades once students have responded to feedback
  2. Give feedback first and the grade a week later
  3. Never give students grades on individual pieces of work but an overall grade at a given time i.e once a term
  4. Never give students grades but teachers record these in a mark-book which isn’t shared with students/parents
  5. Never give students grades until a grade is needed i.e a reference for further study

Phil Race also suggests this process for feedback:

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Featured in Phil’s book – Making Learning happen

Potential issues with these

  • The grade is still the important factor
  • Some teachers choose give students grades
  • Students don’t know how they are relatively progressing across their subjects.
  • Parents & students might not ‘like’ it. Current mindset is grades matter.
  • Progression can’t be mapped so neatly in an excel spreadsheet or graph.
  • Teachers will have to use exam board criteria carefully and knowledgeably. (an issue?)
  • A current trend in assessment is using diagnostic questioning using multiple choice. How can you ‘not’ report a %?
  • Will it move back to the old APP grid style marking? (Is this a problem?)

Potential benefits

  • Students don’t compare so much
  • They’re always focused on what they need to do to improve
  • Teachers may focus more carefully on what students need to do to improve
  • The converse of Kohn’s list

Possible resolutions

  • Start this process in year 7 so they know no different
  • Diagnostic/Multiple choice
    • Don’t give % at all. Analyse question by question with them for understanding. ( but they will then add up their correct/incorrect answers!)
    •  or use these at intervals during the learning. Only report to students the improvement % not the actual % For example at the start of the course a student gets 2/15 and in the middle 7/15 and by the en 12/15. You would tell them their increase not how many they got right.
  • Use KS2 data to tell students/parents their expected KS4 grade and then use ‘on track’ and ‘not on track’ with students and parents – Isn’t this essentially what they want to know?
  • Use Phil’s process – using marks but student generated

Is it worth ditching grades or instead, refining summative feedback so that grades become less important?

References

Kohn –  http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/degrading-de-grading/   includes a nice list of references for further reading

Phil Race – Making Learning Happen

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3 thoughts on “What if we didn’t ever use grades with students?

  1. Love the alternatives to constantly giving out grades. School should be about learning instead of grades which makes this an important topic to consider. Thanks for posting!

  2. Really interesting blog – thank you. As a point of interest, we won’t be able to say with any certainty what a GCSE grade 9-1 looks like, since they are going to be awarded on a statistical basis. The criteria attached to the grade descriptors are nonsense (as I observe here for English: https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/the-nonsense-of-the-grade-descriptors/ and apparently Maths are even worse!). For this reason, it would be sensible to abandon KS4 grading on practical grounds as well as principled ones. I don’t want to be telling parents that their child is getting a grade 6 in English when they could actually be awarded a grade 4 based on their statistical position within their peer cohort that year…

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