Everyone in education hates grading.
Students hate being graded.
Teachers hate grading papers.
Administrator hate the hours spent recording grades, reporting grades to watchdog agencies, wading through reams of paperwork showing how poorly their students’ grades compare to others.
An article I read today in The Guardian profiles a school in Germany that has gotten rid of grades for students below age 15.
Although other features of The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) program are worth consideration, the idea of making about three-quarters of students’ time in public school grade free interests me.
Don’t let the no-grades policy fool you: ESBC is no Summerhill.
Maths, German, English and social studies are required subjects.
There are tests.
Students are expected to stay on task.
They have to come into school on Saturday morning to catch up if they waste time during class.
But the whole ESBC program is geared toward developing students who can motivate themselves to learn to adapt to change.
I’ve seen in my own teaching how freedom from the threat of a bad grade motivates students to persist at learning to write long after they would normally have given up.
In my college writing classes, I set as my goal having every student writing competently by the end of the course. Most of my college students are like me: They arrived in college having never had any instruction in writing. So while competent writing is not a very high standard, but it’s not easy for most student achieve.
I do put grades on all formal papers. My students are old enough to want to have some way of tracking their progress and a grade gives them one way to measure that.
But I also guarantee students that as soon as they’ve turned in two papers in a row that display competent writing I’ll drop all their prior grades and they can have a C for the course even if they never darken the classroom door after that.
The amazing thing is that once students achieve competence, they don’t disappear from class. They keep on writing, and their work keeps getting better and better. Occasionally someone ends up with a C, but mostly students earn Bs and As.
I suspect a grade-free program would be hard to implement: The learning content would have to be highly relevant, and teachers would have to be allergic to lecturing.
But wouldn’t it be fun to try it?
Thanks to Doug Peterson (@dougpete on Twitter) whose The Best of Ontario-Educators Daily brought the article to my attention.