Assessment and Ungrading

Selected Resources On….

Assessment and ungrading: is about separating the act of giving feedback from the giving of grades (values placed on student work) – and eventually doing away with the giving of grades, marks, ratings, rankings, letters, numbers for student work and instead focus solely on feedback.

Why I Don’t Grade by Jesse Stommel (Blog Post)
“It’s important to note that a gradeless class does not mean grades don’t influence the work that happens there. Grades have been naturalized in EDU to the point that new teachers don’t feel they can safely explore alternative approaches to assessment. In my experience, new teachers are rarely told they have to grade, but grading is internalized as an imperative nonetheless. And grades have been naturalized to the point that student expectations and anxiety can still swirl around them even when they’re taken off the table.”

How To Ungrade by Jesse Stommel (Blog Post)
“Without much critical examination, teachers accept they have to grade, students accept they have to be graded, students are made to feel like they should care a great deal about grades, and teachers are told they shouldn’t spend much time thinking about the why, when, and whether of grades. Obedience to a system of crude ranking is crafted to feel altruistic, because it’s supposedly fair, saves time, and helps prepare students for the horrors of the “real world.” Conscientious objection is made to seem impossible.”

(Un)grading: It Can Be Done In College by Laura Gibbs (Web Page)
“Because I put myself outside of the grading loop, I can focus all my efforts on feedback and encouragement — on teaching, not grading. I provide detailed comments each week on the students’ writing, and the students use those comments for future revisions. The comments are not a grade; instead, they are meant to help the students become more confident and skilled as writers. The students are also coaches, commenting on each other’s work every week. We are all working on our writing, not thinking about grades.”

Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently) by Jeffrey Schinske and Kimberly Tanner (Journal Article)
“In part, grading practices in higher education have been driven by educational goals such as providing feedback to students, motivating students, comparing students, and measuring learning. However, much of the research literature on grading reviewed above suggests that these goals are often not being achieved with our current grading practices. Additionally, the expectations, time, and stress associated with grading may be distracting instructors from integrating other pedagogical practices that could create a more positive and effective classroom environment for learning.”

Is Throwing Out the Grades Too Idealistic? by Jennifer Hurley (Article)
“For over two years, my teaching has been gradeless, as much as my institution will allow. I assign no letter grades or point values to essays, quizzes, or homework, only a final grade at the end of the semester. I threw out rubrics, too, for the same reason I threw out grades.” 

Ranking, Evaluating, Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment by Peter Elbow (Journal Article)
“Let’s do as little ranking and grading as we can. They are never fair and they undermine learning and teaching. | Let’s use evaluation instead–a more careful, more discriminating, fairer mode of assessment. | But because evaluating is harder than ranking, and because too much evaluating also undermines learning, let’s establish small but important evaluation-free zones. | And underneath it all–suffusing the whole evaluative enterprise–let’s learn to be better likers: liking our own and our students’ writing, and realizing that liking need not get in the way of clear-eyed evaluation.”

The Case Against Grades by Alfie Kohn (Article)
“Grades don’t prepare children for the “real world” — unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant.  Nor are grades a necessary part of schooling, any more than paddling or taking extended dictation could be described that way.  Still, it takes courage to do right by kids in an era when the quantitative matters more than the qualitative, when meeting (someone else’s) standards counts for more than exploring ideas, and when anything “rigorous” is automatically assumed to be valuable.  We have to be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, which in this case means asking not how to improve grades but how to jettison them once and for all.”

I Stopped Grading. You Can, Too by Jennifer Hurley (Blog Post)
“I decided at some point that the only way to get my student to really hear what I was saying in my feedback was the shut up the loud voice of the grade. Inspired by Peter Elbow and the amazing folks at Teachers Throwing Out Grades, I took a huge leap: I would completely stop grading my students’ work, aside from the final grade that I am required to give by my institution.”

How to Crowdsource Grading by Cathy Davidson (Blog Post)
“But what determines meeting the standard required in this point system?  What does it mean to do work “satisfactorily”?  And how to judge quality, you ask?  Crowdsourcing. Since I already have structured my seminar (it worked brilliantly last year)  so that two students lead us in every class, they can now also read all the class blogs (as they used to) and pass judgment on whether the blogs posted by their fellow students  are satisfactory. Thumbs up, thumbs down.  If not, any student who wishes can revise. If you revise, you get the credit.  End of story. “

Appendix A: English 160W’S Grading Contract in Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future by Asao B. Inoue | Copy edited by Don Donahue | Designed by Mike Palmquist (Book)
“Do not be afraid to take risks in your writing and work. Failing or miss the mark is healthy for learners. Good, deep, important learning often happens because of failure—so it’s really not failure at all. Failure really only happens in our class when you do not do the work, or do not labor in the ways we ask of you. Most importantly, what looks like failure in writing can show us our weaknesses, misunderstandings, and opportunities for growing and changing.”

Pass No Pass by Matthew Cheney (Blog Post)
“But I also know that feedback needs to be absolutely separate from evaluation, that opportunities for revision need to be built into any task if we want meaningful learning, and that if we want students to learn to strive for quality (and hold themselves to high expectations) then we need to separate ideas of quality from ideas of grading. This last point is one of the most difficult for me to internalize, and certainly the most difficult for students to accept, because it pushes against the raison d’etre of the letter grading system as well as against the metrics-obsessed nature of contemporary culture.”

The Trouble With Rubrics by Alfie Kohn (Article)
“Studies have shown that too much attention to the quality of one’s performance is associated with more superficial thinking, less interest in whatever one is doing, less perseverance in the face of failure, and a tendency to attribute the outcome to innate ability and other factors thought to be beyond one’s control.[7]  To that extent, more detailed and frequent evaluations of a student’s accomplishments may be downright counterproductive.”

All Teachers Should be Trained to Overcome their Hidden Biases by Soraya Chemaly (Article)
“Training teachers to understand bias will not eliminate it, but it could create an institutional environment in which it is clear that understanding bias and its effects is critically important. The long-term return on investment is inestimable.”

Ungrading by Susan D. Blum (Article)
“People kept asking me what I would do to improve things. And I said that if I could make one change, I would get rid of grades. I’d been making some efforts in that direction, but still I fretted over how to make my pedagogy align with my theoretical understanding of how people learn. “Fretted” may be too light a term; I wondered if I could actually keep teaching if I didn’t believe in the enterprise. Last summer, as I prepared my classes, deeply immersed in the thinking that had led to the book, I decided I would go all the way and get rid of grades. Or at least, get rid of them as much as I could — all the way to the end of the semester.”

Mount Erskine, Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands British Columbia (Photo by Liesel Knaack) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
View of Crofton (and Paper Mill) and up Vancouver Island from Mount Erskine, Saltspring Island, British Columbia (L.Knaack)