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I Hate Grades

I suppose there could be some kind of sick twisted joy in handing out grades, but I don't enjoy it at all.  But it's part of what I do:  I make people do things and then evaluate how they do them.  I have some idea about what would be perfect in terms of the assignment, and then give them points based on their approximation of that perfection.

So listen up, class.  For an essay, what I would like is an idea that is presented so smoothly and clearly that I can't even tell it has been presented, the obviousness and rightness of the idea as clear as epiphany.  The following body paragraphs should build--gently, slowly--to a crescendo of weighted proof, the language and quoted text whirring in a smooth and effortless "Yes."  I'm never pulled away from the sharp, quick, witty words by errant punctuation.  There is no semi-colonitis here, no comma splices, no exclamation points at all.  Not one.  The format will be exactly what the Modern Language Association has decreed in their wisdom, the application of such seamless.  The paper, white.  The font, Times New Roman.  The paper should almost float on air; it's perfection as godlike as paper can be.

I can't even do that.

Mostly what I get is the attempt to say something and back it up.  I get that.  I do it all the time.

So back at the ranch, we are cranking out those thesis statements and body paragraphs like there is no tomorrow.  The students try to do everything I ask (my demands are more reasonable than what I listed above) and most can't quite do it.  Then I give them their grades, and the emails commence.  I've already received three--two students wanting A's, one student thanking me for her A (that was nice). 

Students feel they've done what I've asked and I still haven't seen that they've done it.  I have seen, and they haven't done it, and I had to grade them.  And because of email, I am often asked to defend my grade.

Calgon! Take me away.

At Evergreen State College where both my sons have attended, there are no letter grades.  Students receive up to the units of the class.  If it's a 16 credit class, 16 credits means you've done all the work.  And then you get the letter about yourself, telling you what you learned and how you learned it.

I used to think this was amazing and wonderful, until one year, a tired professor gave him--by careless accident--two other grade reports.  When my son arrived home, I was able to read how this narrative evaluation process might be handled, and it's handled by cut and paste.  My son had three unique lines about him, but the three evaluation reports were otherwise exactly the same.

Grades--even at their most vaulted--suck.

I give them an F.



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I'm grading too--poetry!

Poetry is hard to grade--the students have put themselves on the line, so to speak.   I hate the grading.   No joy in it.  The joy is when it's over!  Marilyn Kallet 

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...is the only part of teaching that I despise.  I love teaching.  Love it.  But grading -- putting a whole room full of students through the same hoop and assigning a number to how well they jumped through it, a number which inevitably sets up a comparison between their success (or lack thereof) and their classmates' -- sucks.  Not to put to fine a point on it.

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There are good things and

There are good things and bad things about grades.  Grades are good things in that they teach students that they are going to get grades throughout their lives.   Not necessarily in the form of letters....but in the form of paychecks, job evaluations, bank loans, etc.   In a perfect world, everyone would be self-employed, but such is not the case.  So in that regard, grades are necessary.

What I have a greater problem with is the "multiple guess" test.   Multiple guess tests were devised as a convenience for teachers or teachers assistants.  They were unheard of during the Renaissance, when REAL education actually occurred.

 I have actually moved away from multiple guess tests in my A.C. electronics classes.  I now give essay tests where my students have to prove to me they know the answer without the answer being in front of them....in complete sentences.  I tell them that grammar and spelling will be taken into consideration.   I have a small class....and I TELL them that I have PLENTY of time to read their answers!  Without a time crunch, I can afford to be brutal.

 I love it...they hate it.   But they're learning stuff.


"I taught them everything I know, and they're STILL stupid!"

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Clearly, the teachers have grading issues

And here we are, all trying to figure it out, still, after probably countless years grading away.

Maybe there is no answer, but a complete rebuilding of society as we know it--I know my anarchist would approve.


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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It took us a while to get

It took us a while to get where we are, and it will take a while to get back to where we should be.  (Frankly, I was one of those kids who thived with grade pressure....and for a lot of people, grades actually work). 

 However, letter grades are a product of the Industrial Revolution.  (Actually, so was public education itself). They really worked quite well for ensuring employability when we needed armies of fairly uniformly educated people.   But all the great innovators came from what we would call "alternative" education, which, going back to the Reniassance was NORMAL.

I would advocate education by thesis at ALL secondary grade levels.  If you really look at how doctoral theses are granted, there are lots of great features.  You have to PROVE a point to someone...and you have to pull in "evidence" from multiple disciplines.  Our normal "segmenation by subject" does NOT foment analytical thought and innovation.  By the time a kid enters high school, he SHOULD be ready for some genuine problem solving.

 But again....very few teachers below the college level are prepared to grade by thesis....it doesn't fit into compartmentalized knowledge.  It takes a tremendous commitment on the teacher to make it work.  But I'm sure it's worth it in the long run.