From Degrading to De-grading by Alfie Kohn

Why should teachers grade less? To read Alfie Kohn's entire piece, click here.

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.

My Story

I started researching gradeless classrooms at a point of frustration. I was spending hours at home grading work or preparing lessons. As I waded into the gradeless classroom waters, I discovered much better reasons to grade less than my initial hope to bring home less work. In fact, GradeLess doesn't equate to less work, just different work. Rather than ranking and sorting my students, I get to spend time creating lessons, analyzing my students' skills, and providing feedback. My students reported that their anxiety decreased and their willingness to take on challenges increased, and I feel like my classroom has changed from a grading gulag to a learning lab.

Advice from My Journey

1. Start by identifying the standards your students must meet.

2. Define what each letter grade means so that you can give holistic grades (if you must give grades). For me, an A means the student met the standard, a B means approaching, a C means emerging, a D means trying, and failure is the choice to do nothing.

3. Communicate with administration, students, parents, and colleagues about your grading plan.

4. Remember that students still need structure.

5. Don’t grade behavior (participation, late work, etc.). Grading should not be a classroom management tool. Relationships are the best classroom management tool.

6. Don't grade practice. If class is interesting, the lesson is relevant, and time is provided, students will do the practice for intrinsic rewards.

7. Provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.

8. Use the gradebook to take notes, not do math and find averages.

9. Evaluate the student when he/she reaches the destination, not his/her journey. Aim for a J curve, not a bell curve.

One Student's Thoughts on Grading

Students should be graded on their demonstration of their understanding of the topic at hand. If they choose to do that by scheduling a conference with their teacher to discuss the topic, or by making a presentation, or by writing an essay, or whatever they want, as long as the content is there, and understanding of the topic has been made clear, the student should be graded well. Teachers should take notes on what was done well and what needs work, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in each student . Grades, instead of being based on the amount of work a student turned in, would be based on the level of understanding demonstrated by the student. Something I’ve experienced personally, and something I’m sure teachers have noticed as well, is that sometimes students clearly have a good understanding of the content in a class, yet are doing poorly. That should not be. If a student understands that content well, there is no good reason for a failing grade. If you think students who understand a topic can fail because they don’t do the work, you have to concede that schools are in the business of making students work, not educating them.

Brian Hughes, Roosevelt High School 2019