Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grading is Making our Schools Dumber

Yesterday I re-read Alfie Kohn's article "From Degrading to De-grading" in preparation for a class I was teaching on assessment and grading practices.  Kohn shows research and makes the case that grades reduce student interest in learning, reduce student preference for challenging tasks, and reduce the quality of student thinking.  It's definitely an article all educators should read.

Photo Credit: UGA Admissions Blog
After teaching the class I started thinking about our schools, and how we are using standardized test scores to grade them.  It's pretty obvious that the same case can be made that our schools are suffering from the negative effects of being graded. 
  • Schools are less interested in being innovative, professionally developing their faculties, and "learning" better ways to teach because they are so focused on getting a good "grade."
  • Schools shy away from challenging tasks that might benefit our students because such focus would take time and resources away from test preparation.  Schools do not attempt challenging reforms because they are afraid their "grades" might slip.  The status quo looks pretty good, as long as your funding isn't getting cut and you've got a passing grade in the local newspaper to show taxpayers.  Schools are focusing on ways to keep that status quo as long as possible with the least amount of resources possible. That's a recipe for stagnation. 
  • Most importantly, the quality of thinking in our schools is suffering.  Teachers aren't expected to think about ways to improve their lessons.  Instead, schools are buying scripted textbook lessons that are "proven to increase test scores."  We are replacing any hint of innovative practices inside our schools with "standardization."  In short, we are focusing all of our energy on winning the game of standardized testing, and no energy on ensuring our students are actually learning.


  1. This goes back to our conversation... how do we fix it? Is it a matter of what we do in our individual classrooms? Or, how do we change this as a whole?

  2. Beth,
    Each of us has a responsibility to our students, our profession, and ourselves to change what we have control over. For me, that means blogging, writing letters to politicians, talking to others both in and out of education about what's best for our students, changing practices in my own classroom, and supporting/voting for candidates that will legislate in ways that benefit students. The more the word is spread, the better. Thanks for commenting.