Sunday, June 3, 2012

To Fail, Or Not to Fail...

Ever since my first year as a teacher, I have been assigning students grades for their class work, homework, tests and quizzes. It is logical to do so, right? After all, I received grades for my work growing up. However, as I do more and more professional reading and networking, my views on the traditional grading system are beginning to shift. This is not a small shift, but an epic, monumental, cosmic shift. One in which I feel like beating my head against a wall and exclaiming "What have I been doing to these poor children for all of these years?!?!?!?"

If you follow some of the same people as I do on Twitter, or have joined many educational blogs, you may have had the same seed planted in your own brain. The two questions that are battling it out in my brain are these: Are the grades I assign truly providing feedback and inspiring students to learn, grow,  and improve? OR Am I simply punishing them?

These are difficult questions to not only think about, but to try and find answers to. Many teachers that I have spoken with have a very hard time understanding why I am questioning this system. Not only that, but something I often hear is: "But if you don't give grades, how will parents know what their children are struggling with?" What I wonder is this: Do the grades we give really provide parents with accurate information about their child's learning?  Not only that, but am I alone in feeling like my time would be better spent giving written or verbal feedback about content of work instead of busying myself with trying to assign a numerical value to it? Not to mention the hours spent entering grades!

I am not saying this system is "wrong." I am just wondering if it is what is "best" for our children. I dread passing back papers, handing out progress reports and report cards. The look on the faces of some of my students is devastating. If I feel this way, how do THEY feel? 

I don't have the answers when it comes to solving this "problem." However, I do have the desire to think more about it find out as much as I can from others. I encourage you to do the same. If you haven't thought about the way you grade before now, just spend some time reflecting. I am not criticizing anyone. In fact, as my principal often says, "teaching is one of the hardest do well." But in order to make sure we are doing the best we can for our students, I think this topic deserves some attention and careful consideration.

Resources I have found helpful:
The Case Against the Zero


  1. Mrs. P,

    I find your post intriguing. As an author, what if editors graded the manuscripts we submitted? Would that be helpful? Not at all! I want the feedback that takes me from where I am to where I could be with helpful feedback and more work. I suspect it's the same for kids.

    Thanks for your reflection!
    Lynn Plourde

  2. Our district recently went to a 4, 3, 2, 1 grading system to based on standards met. 4 is exceeded standard, 3 is met standard, 2 is progressing, 1 is not met. We received very little time to get ready. In the middle school, once students figured out that homework didn't count and that they couldn't fail, many stopped working. It has been an interesting journey.

  3. Lynn- That's a great point you raise. Perhaps I will share that with those who think I am nuts!

    Anonymous- If students do not meet the standards, how do they pass on to the next grade?

  4. I wholeheartedly see where you are coming from. This past year our Code of Conduct book changed on our grading system due to decisions being made at a policy meeting last summer. We used to "have to have" 6 grades per subject per 6 weeks. 1 grade per week. High school teachers weren't getting their 6 grades so the powers to be said now we have to have 10 grades per 6 weeks. Hello? All we do is grade.

    I hear teachers having conversations about how many grades they do or do not have. Not about true authentic assessment. It makes my blood boil. Now some of us realize that 10 grades is TOO MUCH so we sent a petition to the policy meeting 2 weeks ago AGAINST that many grades. Our superintendent and curriculum coordinator said it's easy for us to get 10 grades. That wasn't our point!! Final decision-still 10 grades. Sigh.


  5. That is so disheartening. I am sorry to hear that. I suppose I should thank my stars we don't have a quota we have to fill. I just don't understand these kinds of policies. No one benefits from them, especially not children.

  6. That's been weighing on my mind a lot the last couple of years. My district is strictly standards-based, and I have seen effort go down the drain because the kids know the system: just show the teacher once you can do it. So I feel there needs to be an effort factor, but not turning in an assignment doesn't mean the student didn't learn the skill/concept. So I don't know. I wish we had the answer.

  7. It is quite difficult. I feel like teaching would be everything I thought it would be when I was studying in college: Me inspiring children to fill their brains with as much knowledge as they were able to get their hands on. Unfortunately, this grading system for children this age is having an opposite effect on their motivation. They aren't motivated to "learn," they are motivated to get points. And those who get poor grades aren't really motivated by anything because even if they DO enjoy learning, those Ds and Es will stick with them.