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By Alfie Kohn [This is a slightly expanded version of the published article. Suddenly all the joy was taken away. I was writing for a grade — I was no longer exploring for me. I want to get that back. Will I ever get that back? We need to collect information about how students are doing, and then we need to share that information along with our judgments, perhaps with the students and their parents.
You say the devil is in the details? In fact, students would be a lot better off without either of these relics from a less enlightened age. Why tests are not a particularly useful way to assess student learning at least the kind that mattersand what thoughtful educators do instead, are questions that must wait for another day.
Here, our task is to take a hard look at the second practice, the use of letters or numbers as evaluative summaries of how well students have done, regardless of the method used to arrive at those judgments.
Even on a measure of rote recall, the graded group remembered fewer facts a week later Grolnick and Ryan, Research on the effects of grading has slowed down in the last couple of decades, but the studies that are still being done reinforce the earlier findings.
For example, a grade-oriented environment is associated with increased levels of cheating Anderman and Murdock,grades whether or not accompanied by comments promote a fear of failure even in high-achieving students Pulfrey et al.
But, the student persisted, what if he studied very hard? The latter serve to illuminate a series of misconceived assumptions that underlie the use of grading.
Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake Kohn a. Many assessment specialists talk about motivation as though it were a single entity — and their recommended practices just put a finer gloss on a system of rewards and punishments that leads students to chase marks and become less interested in the learning itself.
And that is exactly what happens when we try to fit learning into a four- or five- or heaven help us point scale. The result is that teachers may become more adept at measuring how well students have mastered a collection of facts and skills whose value is questionable — and never questioned.
Nor, we might add, is it worth assessing accurately. They offer a way to thoughtfully gather a variety of meaningful examples of learning for the students to review. Conversely, one sometimes finds a mismatch between more thoughtful forms of pedagogy — say, a workshop approach to teaching writing — and a depressingly standardized assessment tool like rubrics Wilson, Rating and ranking students and their efforts to figure things out is inherently counterproductive.
Rubrics typically include numbers as well as labels, which is only one of several reasons they merit our skepticism Wilson, ; Kohn, In fact, posting grades on-line is a significant step backward because it enhances the salience of those grades and therefore their destructive effects on learning.
Moreover, research suggests that the harmful impact of grades on creativity is no less and possibly even more potent when a narrative accompanies them. Narratives are helpful only in the absence of grades Butler, ; Pulfrey et al.
That phrase may suggest any number of things — for example, more consistency, or a reliance on more elaborate formulas, in determining grades; greater specificity about what each grade signifies; or an increase in the number of tasks or skills that are graded.
At best, these prescriptions do nothing to address the fundamental problems with grading. At worst, they exacerbate those problems. And more frequent temperature-taking produces exactly the kind of disproportionate attention to performance at the expense of learning that researchers have found to be so counterproductive.
In my experience, the best teachers tend to be skeptical about aligning their teaching to a list imposed by distant authorities, or using that list as a basis for assessing how well their students are thinking.
This surely represents an improvement over a system in which the number of top marks is made artificially scarce and students are set against one another.Coleman’s advisory panel refused to sign off on the report, citing “methodological concerns” that continue to reverberate.
Subsequent research has corroborated the finding that family background is strongly correlated with student performance in school.
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