Grading, as it is currently conceived, is nothing more than a purely extrinsic motivator. In order to move forward we, as educators, have to stop kidding ourselves that “grading” student work is about providing feedback. We’d like it to be about the feedback but it isn’t. It’s about that mark at the top, whether it be a number or a letter. When you hand back a quiz, a paper, or any other assignment, take a look at your students’ reactions and behavior. I’d wager it follows the same pattern each time:
- Student goes straight for the number or letter, skipping any corrections or written feedback.
- Student looks to friend, neighbor, or person sitting near them and asks, “What’d you get?”
If that is what you see then grading is not about the feedback. It is about the extrinsic reward for completing a particular task to your specifications. It is about instant gratification, regardless of how that outcome was achieved. It is also about the competition with peers. It’s why, a week prior to grades closing, your students inevitably ask the question, “What can I do for extra credit?” or immediately following the student receiving the report card, “Why did you give me a B?” It’s not about the learning and it hasn’t been for a long time.
But wait -- many educators will be quick to stop me in my tracks and ask, “How do you provide evidence and justification for assigning grades if you aren’t ‘grading’?” A valid question, sure, because of the perceived value that “accountability” holds in the culture of school -- as if “accountability” can exist only as numbers in a gradebook. If not grades, then how can you evaluate a student’s progress towards learning objectives? For starters, I’m working with the students day in and day out. I’m observing their progress in and out of the classroom. But if my professional judgement isn't enough, I’ll argue that four criteria need to be met:
- Continuous embedded formative assessment of progress
- A record system with meaningful feedback towards meeting learning objectives
- A record of all student work
- Student agency in the evaluation process
In the next installment, I’ll discuss how the Latinity Point mechanic of Operation LAPIS hits all four of those criteria to provide an alternative to standard grades.