In eighth grade, I was asked, along with three other students, to design a Fresco for the school library. We were asked to capture the Seven Wonders of the World and were given time during religion class to create this masterpiece. We stayed in the classroom in the back row while we worked on this project so we could still hear the religion lesson. In about a month, the fresco was done and mounted on the back wall of the library. That same day we were given a test on the content that had been covered in religion class while we were being important artists. Much to my surprise I received a D on the test.
I had never received a D in any subject, and it really scared me. I was not a young person who often went head to head with the nuns or any teacher for that matter, but in this case I believed that the D was unfair and wanted a chance to redo it. I explained that I was not able to fully attend to the lesson because my mind was in India drawing and chalking the Taj Mahal and in Egypt stacking the bricks to the Pyramids. Sister Mary E looked me in the eye and after a few stern questions agreed to allow a redo the next day. I studied the notes that a friend had given me who wasn’t drawing and then took the test which resulted in a solid A.
Pleased that I received an A, and restored myself in good standing, I was certain that I would probably get an A on my report card since I had done fairly well over the grading period. My final grade was a B and the reason that was given was to teach me a lesson about paying better attention in class. Sister Mary E did not give me full credit even though I was given the opportunity to retake the test and had earned it.
I determined that school was just a “catch you” kind of place with rules that changed depending upon the teacher’s mood. While I appreciated her offer to redo a test, it seemed pointless if it made no real difference. Grades became a game of chance and the teachers held all the cards. I learned how to navigate this reality and stayed on top of the game at the expense of losing more than a few opportunities for real learning.
To be perfectly blunt and out of the conventional school box, grades do not accurately reflect learning. They are devised based on a myriad of factors, none of which promote learner growth , a better understanding of concepts, or the desire to tackle more difficult challenges.
A quote from this article above sums it up quite well.
“School is about teaching kids how to follow rules, and having grades as the emphasis is how they do that…”
I don’t believe that grades are motivators to learn. They are however, motivators to get better grades. Schools are basically “grading factories” with winners and losers. I read something a smart young man said recently on his twitter feed and it seems appropriate to repeat here. “School is the place where knowing how to learn goes to die.”
Heard of a great book on this subject that looks interesting, Hacking Assessment: Ten Way to go Gradeless. Check it out here at Amazon