“Grading for learning is like bombing for peace.”

This phrase really got my attention. It got my attention because the analogy it draws is so striking. Obviously, learning and peace are desirable outcomes. What might not be entirely obvious, except for those in the pedagogical know, is that grading hinders learning in the same way that bombing hinders peace. The analogy might even be saying something stronger, for in the same way that peace antithetical to war, grading is antithetical to learning.

I find this reasoning to be entirely rational. When the focus is on grading, as Alfie Kohn argues, the learning becomes ancillary; the important thing, as far as students are concerned, is to get a good grade. Like most problems in education, this is not something that can be easily addressed by individual educators. This is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution. The correlation between grades and achievement is so deeply woven into the fabric of educational system that it would be fair to call this a cultural epidemic. Of course, there are many things that individual teachers can do to mitigate the damage, different forms of assessment, but unless the entire system is rethought, the gains will be minimal at best.

As an undergraduate, I didn’t receive grades. The school that I went to was modeled on the Oxford system where written evaluations took the place of grades. This kind of assessment made learning more exciting, and thus, incentivized the learning process. Granted, this kind of assessment is no practical, especially with the large classes that we are expected to teach. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this kind of assessment is to learning, what flower power is to peace.


About Darren Jackson

I'm a Ph.D. candidate in ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) at Virginia Polytechnic and State University in Blacksburg, VA.
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4 Responses to 2/8 ASSESSMENT

  1. Fascinating! Which school did you go to? The only issue I can think of (from a truly industrious American perspective) is how daunting of a task it must be to admit and matriculate the necessary amount of students and have just and fair assessment of each one in your class, while still getting through all of the material that we would in our ‘traditional’ disciplinary schools here.
    At this point, I feel like almost every major has become a trade school, with career specific training and assessment.


  2. sarahrdonnelly says:

    I’d love to hear more about your experience as an undergraduate in a school that did not give grades. Maybe share with us tonight? The idea is compelling, though I wonder how a large school like Virginia Tech would implement it fairly. Something to think about!


  3. dalya88 says:

    Assessments as you mentioned, puts most of the focus on grades which becomes the students main concern, and not the actual learning process. I’m happy to know that not all of us have been thorough this traditional system and that you didn’t receive grades which made you more interested in what you learnt!


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