Re: grades

Bob King (kingbx@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Sun, 25 Aug 1996 23:23:35 -0400

On Sun, 25 Aug 1996, William L. Tilson wrote:

> hi bob:
> i wonder if have any specific leads on the studies supporting the
> elimination or alteration of grades tia

There are at least two pieces to the literature. One would be support for
the idea that grading damages the learning process. Another would be
proposals for "alternative assessment" practices, to take the place of
letter grades. Here's a book that may provide some leads: _School Policy_
by Daniel Duke and Robert Canady, both of U. of Virginia, published by
McGraw Hill in 1991. From one of the chapters on evaluation, here's a
pastiche of a section on the evolution of grading practices:

"Grades are part of our daily life. We grade meat, eggs, pencils, houses,
and students; grades are an established American tradition. The demise of
the one-room schoolhouse in the early 1900's was accompanied by a push for
efficient educational institutions modeled after bureaucratic
organizations. Neatly printed report cards became a hallmark of this
trend. The graded report card took root so firmly, states Bellanca, "that
by 1911 the first major research project's negative conclusions could not
destroy it."
In the years from 1911 to 1960, schools experimented with various
reporting systems. Although research continued to show that grades were
damaging to the teaching and learning process, only superficial changes
were made. . . .
Challenges to traditional grading practices were raised in
William Glasser's book entitled _Schools Without Failure_; Rosenthal and
Jacobson's studies of teacher expectations and pupils' achievement; and
the book _Wad-ja-get?_ by Kirschenbaum, Napier, and Simon, which led to
the Conference on Grading Alternatives and then to the organization of the
National Center for Grading/Learning Alternatives. At the college level,
Pollio and his associates at the University of Tennessee Learning Research
Center reported their extensive nationwide survey showing that commonly
used testing and grading procedures do not promote learning and may even
distort the value of a college education for many students."

Anyway, there are some references in the above quote, and the biblio for
the book would be a further source. The book is actually about policies,
and it was interesting to me to discover that schools actually have such
things as "grading policies" in writing, and that they are subject to
re-writing. If you have the stomach for it, policy is an interesting
area, between theory meeting practice, where the rubber meets the road as
they say. The good news is that there is a lot of work being done on
alternatives to letter grading as an assessment practice -- mastery
learning, for example. The good news is also that policy is an
administrative domain for the most part, and even what seemed to me like a
middle-of-the-road book on school policy had (as above) nothing much more
than what I interpreted as a cynical regard for traditional grading
practices. So who's to blame for the continuation of the old hat?
Probably everyone! It takes a whole village. Ed measurement is not my
field, but I took a class in Ed policy, and I hope the above book might
provide a lead or two that you can use as a start.

Bob King