My "Gradeless" Reading – Academic Journal Articles

I recently shared the books on my bookshelf that have inspired me on my exploration of a world without marks.

Here are some reflections on quotes from some of the journal articles that I have found most interesting:

“Educators have a moral imperative to dismantle the inequities that endure in our schools.” (p. 55)

Feldman, J. (2019). Beyond standards-based grading: Why equity must be part of grading reform. Kappan, 100(8). 52-55.

Educators are the closest to students, and so the inequities in the classroom are most apparent to them. Where they struggle is where their “moral imperative” runs up against the standards they have set for their practice, or have been set for them by the organizations that govern them. Educators find it difficult to compel their students to “follow the rules”, unless they are modeling that for them.  To dismantle the system, means NOT following the rules, but to follow the rules means preserving inequity.

“…increased use of grades for high-stakes decisions including student mobility, admission, selection, accountability, and reporting” (p. 18)

DeLuca, C., Braund, H., Valiquette, A., & Cheng, L. (2017). Grading policies and practices in Canada: A landscape study. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 184, 4-22.

Everyone wants an easy answer, and marks are the easy answer to the questions of university admission, job offers, and status. We need a way to validate achievement, without the use of numbers.  I believe that we have the technology, but we haven’t yet figured out how to use it.

“Distinguishing specific product criteria and reporting achievement grades based on these criteria allow teachers to offer a more precise description of students’ academic achievement and performance.” (p. 16)

Link, L.J., & Guskey, T.R. (2019). How traditional grading contributes to student inequalities and how to fix it. Curriculum in Context, WSASCD, Fall/Winter, 12-19.

Criteria, criteria, criteria.  Whether you agree with the criteria set in the curriculum, or not, it is much easier to communicate achievement when you have clear criteria.  Traditional grading, where points are given, ignores the precision of criteria, and does a poor job of describing a student’s achievement.

“…grading, like school calendars and group instruction, is part of the very fabric of formal schooling. As long as there is formal schooling, teachers will assign grades”. (p.21)

Anderson, L.W. (2018). A critique of grading: Policies, practices, and technical matters. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26(49), 1-31. https//

The resignation in this statement makes me sad. Perhaps it’s the “formal schooling” that is the problem.  And perhaps our current COVID-19 crisis will be the impetus for us to abandon schooling, and get back to learning.

“Grading practices that have the potential to reduce failure, reduce dropouts, and improve school safety are, indeed, urgent”. (p. 71)

O’Connor, K., Jung, L.A., & Reeves, D. (2018). Gearing up for FAST grading and reporting: It’s time for schools to move toward a grading system that is fair, accurate, specific, and timely. Kappan, 99(8), 67-71.

I would go one more step.  We should get rid of grading practices, and go straight to feedback and validation of achievement of criteria. There is no need to reduce rich achievement data to a single number.

“Is my job to “rank,” to assess and sort students into disjoint bins depending on how they can perform the tricks I expect them to? Or is it to help them move forward in their lives better equipped to handle what will come their way?” (p. 870)

Karaali, G. (2018). On Grades and Instructor Identity: How Formative Assessment Saved me from a Midlife Crisis, Primus, 28(9), 848-874.

This rhetorical question summarizes where I am, hoping to “help them move forward in their lives better equipped to handle what will come there way”.

What have you read lately, that is inspiring you to change your practice?

3 thoughts on “My "Gradeless" Reading – Academic Journal Articles

  1. Grading and the formal exam aspect give purpose and motivation to a school and its pupils. The disappointment from various students that they have not been able to show what they are capable of has been reported since Covid-19 caused the cancellation of exams in Scotland, for example. I would like to add that in addition there is an element of closure the “ceremony” of exam taking in a big hall enables.

    Yes, it is widely recognised that “we need a way to validate (other school) achievements” not currently covered by exams. You statement: “I believe that we have the technology, but we haven’t yet figured out how to use it.” doesn’t hold out much hope that you have an alternative to the present tried and tested methodology

    1. Thank you Paul. I am working on it! I have a design, but not the coding skills yet to build the relational database behind my vision. Keep checking in as I work on a model, and test it out.

  2. I used to teach IT, in particular Microsoft Office. You don’t actually need coding skills to build a relational database in Access – indeed there is online/youtube support. Of the old Microsoft trio Access was the hardest but it was taught at school so it was not too bad. Their simpler Excel offer could do Relational Database too but that is not what it was made for.

    Since then new fangled commercial offers have appeared.

    Good luck

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