What does a letter tell us? What does an A, B, C, D, or F represent? Do we all have the same definition or reasons for giving the letter grades we give? I have written about a Competency Based Education System in my previous blogs, and in this system, learning becomes the constant and time the variable. Would grades need to exist in a system like this? What would be their purpose if learning truly is the constant?
In our current system grades many times reflect certain behaviors. Did the learner turn in their assignment? Did they turn it in on time? Did they type the paper out? Did the learner show all work? There are many other behaviors we log as well that all affect the learner’s grades.
I had a conversation with a group of educators not too long ago and gave them all the same student’s test and asked them to grade it. They could come up with their own rubric, but I gave them the answer key as well. The grades on that test from six different educators, in the same content area, ranged from an F to a high C. When asked why they graded the way they did, answers were given like: “The student showed their work and proved that they understood this step, but messed up here. So, I gave them 3 out of 5 points on this problem.” Another teacher said, on the same problem, “I only gave them 1 point out of 4 because it was obvious they didn’t understand the main concept assessed here, but they showed their work and attempted it.” In both of these examples we have differing points of view as to what grade should be given on this specific problem. Both agreed, through further conversation, that the learner had no understanding of the concept being assessed, but felt they should give points for other good behaviors exhibited, such as showing work. Why? What’s more important to us – that students understand the concept, or that students show all their work so we can give partial credit for other things that have nothing to do with the learning being assessed?
Is it more important that students learn or when they learn? I believe just about every educator will respond with that students learn. Most of us got into education because we felt that all students can learn and, given the right supports and time, will learn. Let’s set the bar where we want them and accept nothing less. Then provide the support and time necessary for our learners to achieve these goals. If we do this, grades will have no meaning since every learner will be achieving at the expected levels. A simple check mark would suffice. Let’s stop the grading!