Another nail in the coffin of grades

4097009340_4175110833_bI talk a lot about grades.  To friends.  To colleagues.  To random strangers at my second job.   A lot.

And one of the biggest points that I try to make is that assessment should be a measurement of mastery that helps the learner and their “community of support” (parents, teachers, coaches, etc) to have the information that they need to improve mastery.  We destroy the constructive potential of assessment when we give it too much importance.  When students are driven to “succeed” on tests and grades and not to improve themselves, the effects can be devastating.

Linda Flanagan tackles the emotional toll of grades in a new piece for KQED’s MindShift blog and it’s a must-read for anyone who has an opinion about grades.  Which is, you know, everyone.  In the article, she cites recent research by scientists at USC that shows how grades become the motivator for students, robbing them of intrinsic motivation to learn.  Students who once paid attention in class, and continued learning at home, begin to focus only on the work that affects their grade.  This is obviously not the kind of behavior that leads to lifelong learning or independent learning.

The researcher, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, writes that “students’ knowledge of a subject is tied to their experience of the grade”.  The way that students perform is therefore directly connected to the effect of the grade.  I think that more teachers need to understand the consequences of using grades as motivators.  As Immordino-Yang puts it,

“Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest and tying their experience to grades”

Add this to the list of reasons that we need to redirect our attention on meaningful feedback rather than high-stakes letters.

What’s your take?  Put it in a comment.

photo credit: Flickr user anniferrr

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