Receiving an “A” on a school assignment is always cause for celebration. Many schools, however, are going away from giving number and letter grades as ways to assess its students’ assignments. Cleburne ISD officials said they assess students with number grades and don’t plan on changing that any time soon.   

In a column in Education Week, Mark Barnes discusses what it would be like if teachers and schools didn’t give its students number or letter grades when it comes to the way their work is assessed. 

The commentary is a part of a special report by Education Week that explores trends and innovations that have the potential to change the ways schools are run, according to the article.

Barnes said teachers would learn how to effectively assess academic performance, and students would become independent leaners driven by curiosity and inspiration rather than by the promise of a “good or bad” grade. 

“Now, this may sound like only a big, perhaps even unrealistic, idea,” he said. “But the gradeless classroom already exists in schools worldwide. While I don’t claim to be the creator of no-grades learning environments, I and thousands of my colleagues across the United States and around the world have turned it into a movement that is helping educators reimagine how they assess learning.”

He went gradeless more than 10 years ago after half his students failed his language arts class one year. After a review of his grade book,  many students didn’t fail, but they just didn’t complete their work. 

The next year, he switched to an assessment system based on observation, feedback, iteration and student self-evaluation, and students began completing all their assignments, became more engaged and passed standardized tests at higher rates than their peers in other classrooms. 

Cleburne ISD Community Relations Director Lisa Magers said as a rule, the grades assessed on a report card are based on the student’s performance on quizzes, assigned projects and homework assignments, as well as exams or major tests.

The grades are not related to state assessment scores like the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness test, she said. 

DeEtta Culbertson, an information specialist with the Texas Education Agency, said when it comes to ways to assess students, it’s a local level decision.

According to the law, schools have to show that students learned the material, Culbertson said. 

“They might use student portfolios or some type of other assessment other than testing,” she said. “Portfolios have been talked about a lot over the years to show their work and progress over the year.”

Some schools might use portfolios to assess students, she said, because it shows their ability to do tasks rather than past a test.  

Some school districts are doing away with class rankings, she said, so that may be the reason they don’t give out grades. 

Barnesgives several tips on how teachers can create a gradeless classroom:

Be accountable first to students. Teachers owe students the best chance to learn, regardless of any “overarching mandates” they receive about grading. 

Tell parents exactly why you want to eliminate grades. Address their concerns and be transparent about how this will help students. 

Team up with school and community leaders. Approach decision-makers with details about your plan to eliminate number and letter grades. Remind them that you’re not eliminating the evaluation of learning. Outline the benefits of making assessment an ongoing conversation that leads to mastery learning.

Bring students into the report-card conversation. Sit down with students to ask them what work they completed and what skills they acquired over time.

Cleburne ISD to keep grades 

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