Why Grades Should Reflect Mastery, Not Speed

June 6, 2013

I just read a great commentary in Education Week by Ryan McLane (the principal at Utica Junior High School in Utica, Ohio) that I want everyone to read.  I couldn’t have said it better myself, except I would go farther and get rid of grades totally and completely.  Really.  I would get rid of them.  Stay tuned!

Please read his entire commentary (it is short).  I should mention that academic letter grades using a bell curve are going to go away as one of the stupidest inventions ever.  They never worked and that never made ANY sense.

It will take awhile to get rid of them, just as we’ve seen other social changes.  But hey, if the Berlin Wall can come down, we can get rid of grades!  I attended an Ed Week webinar on the topic that was highly attended and very good.  When the recorded version gets posted, I’ll let you know the link.  There are so many good thinkers who have done all the heavy lifting, but now we have to enlighten others.  I hope it doesn’t take as long to get rid of letter grades (and age-based grade levels) as it took to get people to realize the earth is round or that the sun is the center of the solar system.

Meanwhile, here are a few salient quotes to get you interested in reading the full commentary:

“Realistically, I have no idea what Johnny’s B means. To fix that problem, I suggest we make sure Johnny’s grade reflects what he knows and is not influenced by factors such as discipline or responsibility. Those should be separated.”  By the way, that is the law in Oregon!  More on that in a later blog.

McLane writes “I firmly believe the problems of the American education system … are the result of years of poor grading practices.”

He doesn’t stop there, and I love what he says. “I believe it is our responsibility to make sure all students are learning the content and skills that are required of them. I am a big believer in reteaching and reassessing. It is more important that the child learns the material than when the child learns the material…. However, simply putting that grade in the grade book and moving on is the exact reason why public schools are in the position they are in today.”

Please re-read that paragraph again.  Please.

He is right  when he says that  “[t]his process begins early in a child’s education when a child never learns the necessary skills, and then continues to fall further and further behind. It would be my hope that a struggling student receives additional instruction and is reassessed and that his or her grade is updated to reflect the new knowledge gained.”

He reports that some educators respond with some pretty severe nuttiness!  “When I share this view with other educators, the No. 1 response I get is that it is not fair to the kids who got it the first time to allow kids to be reassessed….Really? I missed the part in education school where they taught us that a grade’s primary purpose was to compare and rank students. It was my understanding that a grade is a tool that tells us about an individual’s level of mastery. If that is the case, then it is unfair if we do not reassess that individual.”

You will have to read the article to find out the second-nuttiest thing some educators say on this point.

I disagree about ever giving a grade, but we need to start turning this ship around now.   McLane is right when he says “we need to make grades more meaningful and more reflective of what students have mastered, not how compliant they have been… I am not a proponent of just passing them along. I am a proponent of fixing the problem.”  Then I say we just get rid of them entirely!

Read the article and start spreading the word.  I will post of more information on the subject of getting rid of the letter-grading system.  Letter grades make no sense, but until we get rid of them they should reflect mastery, not speed.

Posted by marks on Thursday June 6, 2013 at 07:55PM

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