My brother failed his first driver’s test. I, to the shock of many, did not. Although I spent a wonderful couple of months rubbing in the fact that I got my license on my first opportunity, he soon passed the test, and we were equal. Yes, equal. It didn’t matter that he failed once – his license looked just like mine. There was no mark or limitation given because he had failed once. His only restriction was the need to wear eyeglasses when driving. He could have actually failed several times before passing and nothing would have changed. What mattered is that he was able to eventually pass the test, thus ensuring that I would have to share the car I liked to pretend was mine.
The above example is a great analogy for my problems with traditional grading. Systems that grade the learning process – formative assessment – and average grades together actually penalize the learning process. What should it matter if it took five tries to understand an assignment, problem, writing technique, etc.? Shouldn’t the grade reflect the student’s learning at the end of all their work? How does averaging a grade suffice if the student has mastered the concept by the end of the unit?
Formative assessment, in particular, should not be graded. I am in complete agreement with Cathy Vatterott regarding this idea, which she eloquently argues in Re-thinking Grading. The intent of formative assessment is to provide the feedback necessary for growth, to allow both the student and teacher to see where the student is and what needs to be altered in order to progress or master the learning target. Why grade it? If we want the student to take a risk in learning, to not be afraid to jump higher, to own the fact that learning is messy, wouldn’t putting a grade on formative assessment be counterproductive?
We need to stop sending kids mixed messages. We need to stop telling them that we want them to value the art of learning itself but then evaluate every single piece of work they put forward. We need to stop grading everything. As Vatterott writes:
So although the dress rehearsal is not perfect, the only thing that “counts” is the final performance, and that is what receives the grade. The final achievement of learning is more important than the steps it took to get there.
– Cathy Vatterott, Rethinking Grading, 67
Maybe if we allowed our students to “mess-up,” if we truly gave them a low-stakes environment, they would actually be more open to taking risks in their learning and admitting when they do not know something. Maybe, just maybe, our students would actually realize that it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you can eventually get there.