It almost seems too crazy to ask.
It’s so deeply ingrained in schooling that would it actually be proper schooling without it?
But what if we ditched grades at school once and for all?
This idea was recently thrown forward by a teacher in a post for the bigthinkers Instagram account.
“I started my journey toward what’s called ‘ungrading’ before the pandemic… and I wish I had stopped sooner,” the teacher wrote.
They wanted their students to focus more on the feedback than the score.
“I had a sense, (which is) backed up by research, that when I put a grade on a piece of writing, students focused solely on that.”
And they’re right there is evidence that grades cause anxiety and stress for students.
Take the Stanford University’s Challenge Success program, which surveyed 54,000 high school students between January 2019 and February 2020 and found that:
- 72% of students reported worrying about taking assessments
- 75% of students reported that they feel often or always stressed by schoolwork
- 76% of students reported worrying about the possibility of ‘not doing well in school’ overall
So did this teacher’s un-grading work?
“Removing the grade forced students to pay attention to my comments… At the end of the semester, when they submitted portfolios of revised work, their reflections on the process and assessments of their learning tracked closely with my own,” they wrote.
“Most recognised their growth, and I concurred. One student, a senior, thanked me for treating them like adults.”
There is a catch, though – the system takes time to implement and revise.
But it’s been worth the trial and error.
“Now I see students from all backgrounds recognising their own growth, whatever their starting point,” the teacher continued.
“They benefit from my coaching, but perhaps even more from the freedom to decide for themselves what really matters in their reading and writing. And I benefit, too, from the opportunity to help them learn and grow without the tyranny of the grade.”
The comments section of the Instagram post was awash with teachers and professors who agreed.
An account named Neglick said they’d “given up grading long ago” and replaced it with formative feedback and summary assessment.
“This & other techniques increased overall completion & retention and narrowed gaps of minoritized groups,” they wrote.
“Everyone did better, including ME as their professor. 🙌”
Another commenter, theishman77, said they’d also implemented a similar system and the results had been “amazing”.
“This is what I do also and the results are amazing. This creates lifelong learners who are brave in their learning and push the bar always higher. Awesome to see this is happening in other places ❤️”
So what do students think?
We asked Gen Zs what they thought about grading in school as part of our After the ATAR III report and we gotta say, it’s pretty unpopular (to say the least).
“The way students get assessed is so inhuman. It’s like giving someone a number,” a 21-year-old male from NSW said.
“I used to be the best one when I graduated. The best of 150 students. But that didn’t mean I was the smartest. I was just the most talented at telling teachers what they wanted to hear.”
For this 19-year-old male from the ACT the pressure to achieve good grades undermined their inner passion and curiosity.
“(While attending school) helped me find my passion, (the grading system) didn’t do a great job of helping me grow that passion, rather deteriorating it through stress and anxiety,” he said
Perhaps more encouraging is how this 17-year-old male from South Australia discovered his life’s passion when a teacher encouraged him to focus less on getting high grades and more on the joy of learning.
“Before year 10 I had always felt secure in my chosen subjects. I was getting very high grades and really enjoyed learning and studying these topics,” he said.
“And although this idea of choosing different subjects was scary to me due to its insecurity in not guaranteeing high grades, my teachers were exactly right about what happened! I chose a variety of new electives and found out what I was born to do.
“Without my teacher’s support and encouragement, I would have never known that I even liked photography, let alone want it to be my lifetime job!”
All because he stopped just chasing grades.