When schools cling to letter and number ratings,
students get stuck in a system that undermines learning.
I remember the first time that a grading rubric was attached to a
that information doesn’t require grades. In fact, students would
piece of my writing. . . . Suddenly all the joy was taken away. I was
be a lot better off without either of these relics from a less
writing for a grade—I was no longer exploring for me. I want to get
that back. Will I ever get that back?
A discussion of the problem with tests must wait for
–Claire, a student another day. Here, our task is to take a hard look at the
(in Olson, 2006)
second practice—the use of letters or numbers to report how
Enough has been written about academic
well students have done.
assessment to fill a library, but when you stop
to think about it, the whole enterprise really
amounts to a straightforward two-step dance.
We need to collect information about how
students are doing, and then we need to share
that information (along with our judgments,
perhaps) with the students and their parents.
Gather and report—that’s pretty much it.
You say the devil is in the details? Maybe
so, but I’d argue that too much attention to
the particulars of implementation may be
distracting us from the bigger picture—or at
least from a pair of remarkable conclusions
that emerge from the best theory, practice, and research on the subject: Collecting
information doesn’t require tests, and sharing
The Effects of Grading
realization. 28 Educational lEadErship / novEmbEr 2011
Most of the criticisms of grading today
were laid out forcefully and eloquently decades ago (see Crooks, 1933;
De Zouche, 1945; Kirschenbaum, Simon,
& Napier, 1971; Marshall, 1968), and
these early essays make for eye-opening
reading. They remind us how long we’ve
known there’s something wrong with
what we’re doing, as well as how little
progress we’ve made in acting on that
In the 1980s and 1990s, educational
psychologists systematically studied
the effects of grades. As I’ve reported