grading in the stone age

Within the article I linked to earlier this week, are links to some other articles about grading. And from one of these, Effective Grading Practices,  which has some very good ideas about conventional grading, a pernicious practice.  Grading is actually unnecessary and a waste teaching time and a factor in the alienation of teachers from more supportive roles with students.  But the peculiar nature of grading in the US is made clear in this article:
Try this experiment in your next faculty meeting. Ask your colleagues to calculate the final grade for a student who receives the following 10 grades during a semester: C, C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A. I have done this experiment with thousands of teachers and administrators in the United States, Canada, and Argentina. Every time—bar none—I get the same results: The final grades range from F to A and include everything in between.
As this experiment demonstrates, the difference between failure and the honor roll often depends on the grading policies of the teacher. To reduce the failure rate, schools don't need a new curriculum, a new principal, new teachers, or new technology. They just need a better grading system.
The emphasis above is the first astounding statement. Not that parents and kids don't already know this. This unnecessary ranking and sorting creates an environment that is competitive and class-based and authoritarian even if it seems ok in upscale neighborhoods.  No doubt it can perhaps be somewhat minimized by intelligent procedures.  Grading's toxicity was mitigated in its effects when mass schooling first expanded in the US due to the strong communities and social capital surrounding schools as well as the fact that getting a job was not really related to school performance in any way. Compulsory attendance was for a far shorter period of time and schools were far, far more local.  But the changes in the 20th century, saw the entire context of mass schooling change and these mitigating factors have fallen away for all but the upper classes.  And we are left with grading which has become a form of social violence perpetuated on kids.

Alfie Kohn writes on the issue with great clarity and cites the research.  Homeschooling families have proved that happy kids can thrive and learn without it. Homeschooled kids can go to top schools and achieve without having been graded until the time they choose some classes or take a test or find a way to prove their ability.

Three Grading Policies That Are Wrong
The author discusses a few instances within schools where grading is minimized and how that lets students learn (called failures) without penalty:
In the best classrooms, grades are only one of many types of feedback provided to students. Music teachers and athletic coaches routinely provide abundant feedback to students and only occasionally associate a grade with the feedback. Teachers in visual arts, drafting, culinary arts, or computer programming allow students to create a portfolio to show their best work, knowing that the mistakes made in the course of the semester were not failures, but lessons learned on the way to success. In each of these cases, "failures" along the way are not averaged into a calculation of the final grade.
Contrast these effective practices with three commonly used grading policies that are so ineffective they can be labeled as toxic. First is the use of zeroes for missing work. Despite evidence that grading as punishment does not work (Guskey, 2000) and the mathematical flaw in the use of the zero on a 100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), many teachers routinely maintain this policy in the mistaken belief that it will lead to improved student performance. 
Second is the practice of using the average of all scores throughout the semester, a formula that presumes that the learning early in the semester is as important as learning at the end of the semester (Marzano, 2000; O'Connor, 2007). Interestingly, when teachers and administrators have been students in my graduate courses, they routinely insist that they should be evaluated on the basis of their understanding at the end of the semester rather than their work throughout the term.
 Third is the use of the "semester killer"—the single project, test, lab, paper, or other assignment that will make or break students. This practice puts 18 weeks of work at risk based on a project that might, at most, have consumed four weeks of the semester.
Using grades as punishment and behavior manipulation is something the vast majority of schools engage in at this time. Zeros, low grades and all kinds of threats and group punishments are repeatedly used in classes in many schools.  The absolutely amazing fact is that there is 90 years of evidence which is a sad testament to the inherently poor design of this approach to providing learning services to citizens:
For example, although many people sincerely believe that giving poor grades as a punishment is effective, Guskey (2000) has marshaled 90 years of evidence to the contrary.
Why Bother?
Grading is not necessary to run schools.  Grading is completely unnecessary.  Feedback and progress reports preferably long discussions with families are all that is needed until kids themselves decide to tackle something and be evaluated with an eye to college or career preparation. And grading greatly harms teachers by turning their relationship into an authoritarian one.  Teachers should be in the front lines against grading (Joe Bower is) : it interferes and demeans what is a relationship with another human being.  The fact that so many of us have all grown used to grading since we have grown up within the system doesn't diminish the wrongness of this practice.  Some unschoolers have begun unlearning the assumptions of mass schooling present within in them in order to raise children in a humane way.

Our kids are what they are:  we should provide learning services to help each and every one grow and contribute because we want a stronger society and resources for all children.  It would be vastly more efficient to allow the kids and families to make far more choices and drive the development of materials instead of allowing an elite class to define and control who does what when just to make themselves a job.  There is no credible national plan for work or jobs that syncs in any way with anything learned in school:  it is all about the jobs devising tests and curricula and the way it has always been done.

Who Benefits?
But grading is prized most by those at the top who see it as a way to distinguish themselves and so rise above others.  The big state university I attended in the 1970s had a referendum on moving to a Pass/Fail system and it was the kids worried about graduate school who sunk the plan.  Grading culls an elite and it is the elite who will fight hardest to maintain grading and test scores, like the Tiger Mom.  

One cause of our economic dysfunction is the comfort we have with the social violence of grading and ranking spread within our schools, a form of social violence e use with every child every day.
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