You’re looking at my school desk. There’s some wormwood lotion for our desert-like winter classroom conditions here in New England, some peacock feathers (why not?), one of the deck prisms my great grandfather made in his line of work, the growing collection of my ancient wisdom series obsession, and what remains of this year’s unread novella order. What’s not there is the stack of articles and research reports that had been piling up since last spring. I’ve finally read them all during my planning periods. Of course, each report itself produced at least another to read, and often two or three more, making the review process more like attacking a hydra, but those are now tucked away in a “To Read/Review” folder in Drive. My desk is clear, and that’s enough of an accomplishment for me while teaching full-time. Aside from the reports, I’ve read 8 books, too:
- Hacking Assessment 1.0 & 2.0 (Sackstein, 2015 & 2022)
- Ungrading (Blum, 2020)
- Point-less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Zerwin, 2020)
- Proficiency-Based Instruction: Rethinking Lesson Design and Delivery (Twadell, et al. 2019)
- Embedded Formative Assessment (Wiliam, 2018)
- Assessment 3.0 (Barnes, 2015)
- Grading and Reporting Student Progress in an Age of Standards (Trumbull & Farr, 2000)
- Punished By Rewards (Kohn, 1993)
In case you’re wondering and were to ask for my current top five, which includes Grading for Equity (Feldman, 2018) that I read a couple years ago, it’d have to be Ungrading, Pointless, Punished by Rewards, and Hacking Assessment. Beyond the books, this year I also completed a small-scale pilot study, which I’ll be presenting at the CANE Annual Meeting. While not specific to Latin teaching, a case could easily be made that *any* grading research can apply to *every* content area. In fact, it’s somewhat remarkable what researchers have found, yet the profession just doesn’t seem to know. And there’s consensus. I’m not prepared to make sweeping claims and cite anything specific, but my impression of the consensus so far is:
- Grading does more harm than most people think. It’s one of the few relics of antiquated education still practiced today en masse, in pretty much the same way, too. Considering everything that’s changed for educators in the past two, five, 10, 20, and 50 years even, now realize that the current dominant grading paradigm predates all of that. The fact that most grading systems are still based on the 0-100 scale with a “hodgepodge” of assessment products that are averaged together to arrive at a course grade is nothing short of astonishing.
- Schools with a more contemporary (i.e., 30-year old) approach that claim to have standards-based learning (SBL) and grading (SBG) systems are actually still in their infancy, with some not really implementing the systems with much fidelity at all, thus, giving a lot of SBG-derived or SBG-adjacent practices a bad name. It’s mostly teacher/school misinterpretation and poor rollouts of these practices that render the efforts ineffective, not the practices themselves.
- Gradelessly ungrading is probably the only sure bet for fixing the mess that grades have gotten us into. If you’re putting all your time and effort into SBG, I recommend that the second you understand the basics, see if you can skip right on over to a) using portfolios, b) getting rid of all those points, and c) having students self-assess & self-grade just once at the end of the term. You’re gonna need to provide a bit of feedback with this kind of system, too, so maybe try Barnes’ SE2R model.