I’m going to make the same confession to you that I made to my assistant principal a few years ago: I don’t like grading, I’m not good at it, and I’m not interested in getting better at it.

To most teachers, I’d be willing to bet, this is a shocking statement, and certainly not one someone ought to make to an administrator. Nonetheless, I was buried under a mountain of ungraded papers, philosophical uncertainty about the value of grades, and a growing awareness that my students tended to value their grades far more than their learning, so I said it.

Upon making this assertion, my assistant principal smiled, leaned back in her chair, and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”

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This question, “What are we going to do about grades?” has haunted me for years. Sure, grades are a tool for providing feedback to students and to provide information about students to educational stakeholders. However, I don’t think they are the best tool, or even a remotely good tool.

There’s research that indicates this as well: studies have shown that grades encourage cheating (Anderman et al., 1998), spoil teachers’ relationships with students (Kirschenbaum et al., 1971), spoil students’ relationships with each other (Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Kohn, 1992), encourage laziness (Harter, 1978; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Kage, 1991; Milton et al., 1986), and are not reliable measures of what students know and can do (Kirschenbaum et al., 1971).

About the Author:

Joseph Gondolfi is an English teacher at Solorio Academy High School in Chicago, Illinois. Gondolfi has a BA in Secondary Education and English from DePaul University, an M.Ed in Urban Education from National Louis University, and an MA in Literacy Education from Northeastern Illinois University.


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