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Debating grades

I've started a presentation on grading, which anyone with the link can edit and add their perspective. The presentation is split into four areas:

  • What are the goals of grades?
  • What evidence supports the use of grades in schools?
  • What evidence does not support the use of grades in schools?
  • What are some alternatives to traditional grading systems?


Please feel free to add your perspective to this summary of the debate on grading, ideally citing evidence for any strong claims that you make if possible.

Remember that there are a lot of emotions behind the different perspectives on this issue, so to refrain from personal attacks, etc... My objective is to gather evidence and perspectives, rather than start any flame wars.

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.


The purpose of grades is the verify the extent to which a student has mastered a body of content. In reality, it ends up sorting students, which can be pretty negative if you are at or near the bottom of the heap. The real problem with grades is the result of a one-size-fits-all system where all students are expected to learn the same thing at the same pace. This creates winners and losers. Grades also introduce the concept of failure. Why would you do that in a system that is designed to serve children? If we can move to a system where kids only take tests they are ready for with unlimited retakes, kids could get badges as they master content. If you needed to rate students or teachers, you could do so by how far a kid gets. This means you only leave high school when you are ready, which could be after 2 years or 6 years. The same should apply to college.

An interesting article in SLATE magazine about abolishing grades

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