Re: grades

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@PITT.EDU)
Wed, 28 Aug 1996 14:21:58 -0400

> From Mike Jackman:
> "To extend the metaphor of grading - is non-verbal behavior a grade?
> A teacher's shake of the head or spoken "No, that's not right" to a
> student a bad grade? Is a job interview rejection a grade? If grade
> rubrics are eliminated, aren't we still "graded" (judged) all the time in all
> aspects of our lives?

To Mike, Eric, and others,
Certainly we are all evaluated every day in many aspects of our
lives. We size up our students just as the evaluate us. Judgments are
made about our driving, our writing, our cooking, and the way we handle
our children. These do not seem to me to be forms of grading. The
concept of grades seems to imply a formal process of distinguishing
quality. And quality is judged based on a st of established criteria that
is usually insstitutionally acknowledged. Now, tenure and promotion,
performance assessments at work or in the classroom, and the
identification of eggs by size are all forms of grading.
Job interviews might fit this definition, but most daily
interactions fall under the concept of evaluation. As I understand this
latter term, it signifies a process of response to a performance of some
kind. such a process is not necessarily formally defined, nor uniformly
applied across each performance. Seems to me that the primary functions
of grading serve institutional purposes,and the primary function of
evaluation is for personal purposes. In the discussion we have been
having these two terms have not been distinguished. This is significat
for a few reasons:

1) If when we say gradess are bad, we need to ask "bad for what?" Yes
grades are not useful markers of evaluation. When students or teachers
use them in place of constructive evaluation, there is a problem;

2) If we say grades need to be eliminated, we need to aks wehther we are
talking about the elimination of both grades and evaluations, or just
grades. Also, we need to consider whether in fact the actual functions
that grades serve are the problem or whether the ways in which grades get
used is the problem;

3) If we are serious about eliminating grades, then we need to ask how
can we avoid falling into other forms of grading called by different

4) finally, eliminating grades is like treating a cold with chemotherapy
which would certainly turn evalation into someting rather different. That
is clamouring for the elimination of grades is like trying to purge the
symptoms of a percieved ill by irradicating the cells that produce them.
Maybe a better example is the treating of gangreen in a toe by cutting off
a leg. Sure the system would change in some ways without grades, but into

Ultimately, seems to me that the battle to eliminate grades is a silly
one. The argument reminds me of one made by Howard K. Beale in the 1930s
that the forces that control the schools need to be removed so that we
could all concentrate on the real work of learning. Such an argument
ignores the fact that education is always political and always a function
of the state. This is why I said earlier we need to choose our battles.
Why not push to increase the function of evaluation within the
institution. That seems to me to be a more productive battle. Why not
develop methods of teaching that demphasize grades, that reward personal
success, and that call attention to the diffeence between grades and
evaluation? Why try to take on the whole system at once from the vangage
point of the underside of the iceberg?

I just don't see the point.