Where's the beef ... sorry, I misspelled "evidence."
In a courtroom proceeding: evidence matters.
In a doctor's office: evidence matters.
When testing a new pharmaceutical: evidence matters.
Everywhere in life, in everything we do: evidence matters.
Except when it comes to giving academic or behavioral grades. In that case, what seems to matter the most is "it was good enough for me when I was a kid... so it's good enough for the kids today."
My question: where's the evidence behind that belief?
A Whole Lotta Nothing
In 2016, Matt Townsley co-authored a research article entitled "What does the research say about standards-based grading." The first sub-heading in the article is "100 years, no research to support." He goes on to write a compelling case about the lack of evidentiary support behind using traditional academic grading scales (percentage based, etc.), and why a standards-based approach is better for learning based on evidence.
So, if there is no evidentiary support over the last 100 years regarding percentage-based, traditional grading practices, why do teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members circle the wagons when discussions of eliminating those practices comes up?
Overcoming the F.E.A.R. of No Grades
Marc Scott, an Assistant Principal at Cedar Valley Middle School in Austin, Texas, recently published an article in ASCD Express titled "Overcoming the F.E.A.R. of No Grades." He writes:
Through conversations with parents concerned about their children's rank among peers and with teachers about what is fair for students' learning, I have noticed that the objections are usually based not on pedagogy, but on emotion. More precisely: good old-fashioned fear.
I have noticed the same objections: as a teacher, as an administrator, and as a School Board member. The fear is real. Much of the fear (in my perspective) comes from a genuinely good place of concern, yet that concern is often based in a financial foundation rather than a learning one. The biggest objection I hear is that "colleges won't be able to accept them." We all know this is pure poppycock... colleges and universities take transcripts from across the world, and given how different high schools within the same district can provide different transcripts and approaches to reporting progress and learning, imagine the differences when you go from the micro- to the macro- and look internationally; yet, students are and have been admitted continually over the years.
What is grounding this fear, then? Is it financial? Are parents worried that this system won't get their kids the scholarships they believe are deserved? If that's the case, it's a reasonable question to ask about the equitable nature of the traditional grading practices. To what extent are those practices equitable for all learners? To what extent do traditional grading practices favor students with means and supports over students without them? To what extent do those grades report on what was learned and understood, versus students who were highly compliant?
Marc Scott breaks down the word "fear" into four essential truths to both understanding the purpose of grades, but also challenging the extent to which those grades actually work against their very purpose. According to Scott, the four truths are:
What do you think?
So how do you use grades? Do they do what they are intended to do (validity)? Are they consistently done across all students under your control... what about across the grade span/school/district (reliability)? Given how grades have become one of the main sources of communication between the teacher-student and teacher-parent, it's beyond time that we examine whether or not that source of communication actually works.
The evidence speaks to the contrary.
But... who needs evidence, anyway?
... oh yeah... everyone, everywhere, with everything.