Sunday, January 30, 2011

Five reasons why you should stop grading

As you know from my previous blog posts here and here, I am no longer grading my student's work. I have implemented the 3P Grading system this semester in my sophomore and senior English classes. I was scared to death to do it because I felt like I was giving up total control of the class.

After a month of trying out the 3P Grading System, it has honestly been the best thing I have implemented in my career.

Here are five reasons why you should stop grading your student's work:

1. The students take control of their own education.

In my old system where I graded everything, I felt like I often cared more than my students about their grades. I would literally lose sleep over the fact that my students didn't do an assignment or work very hard at something.

When you don't give grades, it is on the students to prove to you that they deserve the grade they want. If they want an "A" then they will have to show me that they went above and beyond to earn an A. In the last month, I have found that my students are now pushing themselves in everything they do. It is obvious the students who want to get an A, and I am seeing many students who are now pushing themselves more than they ever did before. It has been awesome to watch.

2. Improvement and learning becomes the focus

With this system of grading, you are looking at how a student improves from August until May.

I had an interesting conversation in December (before I went to this system) with a colleague about a student that we both have in class. The first few months of school, this student didn't do anything. He didn't turn in assignments, participate in class discussions or really do anything other than show up. Sometime around October, I saw a light bulb turn on with this student. He changed into a totally different person. He was engaged. He was working hard. He was trying. As a result, he was learning. 

I told my colleague, "Wow! Can you believe how much he has changed this semester? He is doing awesome work in class. I have been so impressed." My colleague said, "Right, he is doing better, but he dug himself in such a hole at the beginning of the year that he can't dig his grade out now. The best he can get is a D."

I can't stop thinking about this conversation. Isn't our job as teachers to help students learn and get a little bit better every day throughout the year? Should we penalize students for the work they do in August and September when we really haven't had a chance to work with them yet? I'm not saying this student deserved an "A", but I have a hard time giving a student who truly is making progress and getting better a low grade because of the work he did early on. This system rewards students who make improvements throughout the year.

3. Student's grades are more accurate

How many times have you had a student who gets an "A" in your class because they do all of the work asked of them, but is really more of a "B" or "C" student? How many times have you had a student who gets a "D" because they didn't do a major assignment, but probably really deserves a "B"? I have had many students who fit into this criteria. The math in the grade book showed me a grade that I really don't agree with. Students were able to get good grades just by doing the bare minimum. 

When you are just putting numbers into a grade book and averaging at the end, you really aren't giving an inaccurate representation of who that student is. Learning can't be computed by numbers.

With this system of grading, I believe the students will get a grade that accurately represents the grade they deserve. If they want an "A", then they will have to go above and beyond to make it happen. They can't just skate by with the bare minimum. I am finally looking at the entire body of work for my students, and not just the number that my grade book software spits out at the end.

4. No more late work!

I am a firm believer in meeting deadlines. I believe as educators, it is our responsibility to teach students about the importance of taking responsibility and getting work done on time. That is a life-lesson that is arguably more important than reading Shakespeare.

Over the years I have tried everything to get my students to turn in work on time:

One year I gave zeros for late work. I told my students, "Don't even try to turn something in if it is late. I won't take it!" Yeah, that lasted about two weeks until: 1. Half of my students were failing and 2. I couldn't keep track of who had extra time to turn in assignments because they were absent the day they were assigned.

One year I tried giving "late work" passes. They had two passes for late work, and if they didn't use them then they could cash them in for extra credit. That didn't last long either.

I never came up with a solution that worked. I was so frustrated because nothing that I tried changed their behavior. Late work was a huge problem that I could never solve.

Now that I don't take or grade individual assignments, I don't worry about late work. I know that life happens, and sometimes their printer really didn't work or they really did have to work until midnight. When students don't have things turned in or are late with work, I make a note of it, but that is it. I don't get hung up on trying to dock students or punish them for it. If they want an "A", then they should rarely have late work. If almost everything they do is late, then they are going to have a hard time arguing for a grade that is higher than a "C" or "D".

5. Not having to answer, "Is this going to be for a grade?"

How many times have you been asked that question? Or even better, "How much is this worth?" I know I have heard it hundreds of times over the years. Students have been conditioned for their entire lives to worry more about how much an assignment is worth and then accumulating those points, than the actual learning that is taking place. Doing an assignment just for the intrinsic value of learning? What a crazy concept!

When you don't give grades, you focus on the learning and not the points associated with an assignment.

I was so scared that my students would flat out refuse to do work now that I am not giving grades. I will admit that I have heard some grumblings from students who are saying, "If he isn't going to grade it, then I am not going to do it." However, those students are very few and far between.

FAR MORE students are working harder and actually doing their work now without having a point value attached to it. It now feels like real learning is taking place for the sake of learning.

These are just a few of the benefits I have found in my first month implementing this grading system. I have been reinvigorated as an educator, and I am looking forward to seeing how this impacts my students the rest of the year.


  1. Great post! I couldn't agree more and I look forward to reading a few more posts about the implementation, pit falls, successes, etc. as time goes by. I love that it focuses on learning and not point values, averages, and if an assignment will be graded or not.

  2. The whole idea of "reporting for accountability" becomes tiresome; along with all of the ridiculous standardized tests.

  3. As a teacher, I'm trying to wrap my mind around how this would work in a math class...any insight?

  4. Mr. Scheeler and rlrichards - Thank you for the kind words. It has been awesome so far.

    Kevin - I think it would work very well in a math class. (I'm an English teacher, so forgive me if I screw up some math terms!)

    Run your class exactly how you do now (daily assignments, tests), but instead of grades, give them feedback as you go. So during class as they are working on assignments, walk around and help them out (which I am sure you do now), but don't collect it for a grade.

    I read a blog the other day that suggested we should flip how we do instruction - produce your "lectures" as videos or PowerPoints and post to your website. Their "homework" is to watch your lecture.. and spend class time helping them do their "homework". That way, you are spending class time working with them to solve the equations, and they aren't all on their own doing it. Interesting idea, and I think would work great in a math class.

    Their progress would be easy to measure - are they getting better at polynomials, fractions, solving equations... whatever you are teaching? That would be easy to see from a pre-test to post-test. But instead of entering a grade in the grade book, analyze the data to see if they are improving. It becomes very individualized because student A may need to improve at fractions, while student B may need to improve at solving the quadratic equation.

    Those are just some of my initial thoughts. Would love to help brainstorm other ways it could work in a math class if you need it.

  5. This is revolutionary! I would love to follow in your brave footsteps. I salute you for traveling in such uncharted waters. Thanks much for the detailed explanation about how your well-constructed vision is developing. I very much look forward to your future blog submissions!

  6. Court, Love your work. I've been using Standards-based grading for years now and REALLY LOVE IT. I have put a TON of work into it on the front end but love the feedback, direction, and support it gives to all learners. Keep up your great work!


  7. Coach, here's how I've tried to explain grading to parents in my community:

  8. Brilliant post. I love reading about educators who have come to understand that learning and achievement are not the same thing.

    I blog about abolishing grading often at

    Here is a page of posts that I know you will find interesting as they are about the trials and tribulations I have experienced through my gradeless journey.

    Perhaps I could convince you to join The Grading Moratorium where there are others like you:

  9. This is a brilliant post! Thanks so much for sharing this. I too have been struggling with the current paradigm of grading and the negative effects it has on students. I am very interested in trying the 3P system myself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

  10. Ok, thanks for the response. A couple of other things to bounce out there. The more I look at this, I love the participation and performance aspects, but struggling with the progress part.
    1. My math department requires EVERY assignment to be completed or we have to assign and incomplete. Suggestions for working that into the 3P process?
    2. My initial idea is to look at each unit we cover in math and look at it like that. We cover about 10 units. Reflections would occur at the end of each section. Would that be feasible based on your experiences?
    3. Can you possibly discuss/show an example of what my gradebook would look like in math (speaking of exemplary models)?
    4. Are there templates the students use to guide their reflection and grading? Would love to see examples...
    Looking to do this ASAP and am excited.

  11. Court-
    Got your email. Thanks. I sent one back.
    One thing I forgot to add was how you were making the time for the conferences? I have over 30 kids. One thing I might do is give the reflection part to do outside of class and then grab them when I can during a certain week.
    How is that working for you/others?

  12. Kevin- I am going to do a post shortly about how I will do the conferences and figure grades.

    On Monday, I handed out a self-reflection form for the students to give themselves a grade in the three areas and give rationale for why they deserve that grade. I told them it is like making a court case - they have to prove that they earned their grade. They did this on their own.

    I planned on doing it over the course of a week with all 125 students, but we have had three snow days plus an inservice day, so that plan is kind of shot. I am going to have to do all of my conferences on Monday/Tuesday next week. I plan on each conference lasting 3-5 minutes, so I hope to get through half of the class each day.

  13. Court, just read your last comment. TERRIFIC!

    Just curious - what will the students be working on during the conferences? Independent projects? Collaborative lessons? I'm sure it's great, just wondering...

  14. I am really intrigued at this method of student assessment. After reading your blogs and the entire 3P Grading packet I do have one question: I noticed in the packet that each quarter has one grade in the grade book based on the 3P's. I know in our district it is expected that you update grades weekly so that parents know where students stand. How do you handle this? Do you have one grade a quarter or break it up a little differently?

  15. Kelly and B- Thank you for the comments!

    Kelly - It will probably be a combo of independent and collaborative. Going to have to get creative with it!

    B - This was my biggest concern also. I thought a great deal about it because I used to send out e-mails weekly to parents so they could always know what grade their student has.

    I will do a grade check four times this semester - midterms and at the end of the quarter. After my conference with each student, I am going to put both of our grades into the grade book and send them out.

    Students have come in to me and said they needed a grade report for their parents. I said, "Ok, let's do a conference. What grade do you think you deserve?" They told me what grade they deserved, we discussed the reasons why, and we agreed on a grade. It was really that easy.

    I sent out a letter to my parents at the start of the semester explaining this change. When I notice students not doing the work, I sent e-mails home to their parents alerting them to be aware. I have also tried to send "good" e-mails home also to tell parents when their students are doing a great job. If a parent really needs to know a grade, you can do a grade conference at any time.

    I am also having my students blog this semester. Their blog is acting kind of like their portfolio. I told parents that they could also get on their student's blog and see if they are completing the assignments.

    I think communication home is huge, and this is something I will continue to work through. I am open to any thoughts or ways to keep parents in the loop.

  16. Hey Court,

    Just a couple of observations and questions:

    I see a contradiction here: I don't get hung up on trying to dock students or punish them for it. If they want an "A", then they should rarely have late work. If almost everything they do is late, then they are going to have a hard time arguing for a grade that is higher than a "C" or "D".

    You said you don't dock students or punish them for late work, yet you went on to say that if almost everything a student does is late they'll have a hard time arguing for a grade higher than a C. To me, that sounds like their grade is being docked because of late work. What am I missing?

    You said: FAR MORE students are working harder and actually doing their work now without having a point value attached to it.

    The P of the 3P that gives me the most pause is participation. The PDF of the 3P Grading system discussed how participation would be given a letter grade (that represents a weighted numerical value) at the end of the grading period. Whether the points for participating in discussion are given the day of the discussion or a few weeks later during a conference is inconsequential. Students are still thinking to themselves, "I better speak up or I won't be able to argue for a high participation grade." What am I missing here?

    You said: When you are just putting numbers into a grade book and averaging at the end, you really aren't giving an inaccurate representation of who that student is. Learning can't be computed by numbers.

    From reading the PDF about 3P Grading, the grade at the end is figured by putting numbers into a gradebook, weighting them, then averaging. What do you see as the difference between averaging numbers throughout the semester and averaging a conferred-upon number at the end?

  17. Shoot, I forgot to say that I like what you're doing in trying to find the best way to help your students learn. I always respect teachers who are trying to continually improve. You've really got me thinking about what parts of this system might have a role in my own classroom. Thanks!

  18. Russ - Thank you for the comments and feedback. I am always looking for ways to improve this grading system, and I appreciate your feedback.

    Late Work:

    That is a great point, and something I have thought a great deal about. As I said, I have tried several strategies to get students to turn in their work on time. Perhaps I need to clarify the point in my blog post. With this system, I do not dock points from their PERFORMANCE component if they have the work completed, but it is one component of their PARTICIPATION grade.

    Here are my criteria for PARTICIPATION:

    •Come to class every day.
    •Be prepared. Have work completed on time.
    •Share regularly. Give good feedback. Ask good questions.
    •Be respectful.
    •Take ownership of your results; be accountable; don’t blame.
    •Ask for help when you need it; use the advice I give you.

    In my English class, I want them to share their work with the class. If they rarely have their work completed on time, then they are missing out on the opportunity to get feedback to learn and improve.

    I am always thinking about the working world. If I constantly turned in work late that my boss asked me to do, what "grade" would I receive? I don't think I would be an "Above and Beyond" or “Basically Fine” worker who is in line to get promotions or raises. I would probably be fired if I was constantly late.

    In other words, I don't dock “points” any more for late work. I look at the entire body of participation, progress and performance over the entire grading period. Turning in their work on time is one component of participation, but not the only one. Are they engaged in class? Do they ask good questions? Do they share their work with the class? I know that sometimes life happens and they don’t get their work in on time. That is acceptable if it happens once or twice. I don’t sweat that anymore. If it is a chronic problem, then they are going to have a tough time arguing for an “A” in participation.

  19. 2nd Question: I do not quite understand your question or confusion about participation.
    I have several students who never spoke up before I used the 3P system, even when I called on them. Now, they are engaged. They are taking chances. They are putting themselves out there in class discussion because they know that it is a component of their grade. It has been incredible to watch because they can’t be passive learners. They have to get involved.

    Grading and Numbers:

    Agreed, the 3P system does ultimately use numbers at the end. However, I see this very differently than my old way of having 30 assignments with point values ranging from 5 points to 100 points all mashed together to come out to one grade in the end. That grade really told me nothing about the actual LEARNING that was taking place. It was just an accumulation of points, trying to get the magical number that would come out to the letter grade they desired. Many students were earning grades they didn’t deserve (higher or lower) because of my old system.

    Grades were also extremely volatile with that method. Parents and students can log-in and see their grades at any time. If I put in a grade, it could have a huge impact on their grade. Parents would e-mail me concerned because of one particular grade. With this conferencing method, I am looking at the entire body of work from the entire semester. Really, the only two grades that matter are at the end of 1st semester and 2nd semester. They are the only grades that appear on the transcript. I used to average the two quarters together along with their final exam to determine their final grade. Now, that seems like a very silly and pointless thing that I did. My current method of looking at the entire body of work for a semester gives me a much clearer picture of the students learning.

    I would love to learn more about standards based grading, so maybe you have the answer for this. I know that Marzano says we shouldn’t lump all grades together. His ideal gradebook has every standard in the gradebook, and then a grade for just that standard. You don’t add everything up and average it out. You can then talk to students and parents and give an accurate picture of the learning taking place. You could say “Johnny is very good at writing thesis statements, but he needs more work on embedding quotes. I really like that idea, but I’m not sure it is not feasible for me to use my current gradebook to implement that type of standards-based grading at this point. However, I am very open to learning more about it.

    The 3P system allows the students to have control and input into their grade. They have been around grading for so long that they know how they are performing. This system allows me to talk to students and parents about the individual aspects that I am looking for. I want to see participation, progress and performance, in that order. If they are engaged (participation), improving (progress), then their performance has no other option than to go up also.

    Thank you again for the feedback!

  20. I really like that idea, but I’m not sure it is not feasible for me to use my current gradebook to implement that type of standards-based grading at this point. However, I am very open to learning more about it.

    This is an important point. As far as a traditional gradebook with expectations of one letter grade representing the class goes, I think what you're doing is fantastic. Involving students in the process and the outcome and breaking that letter grade into meaningful and understandable chunks before simplifying it is what should -- in my opinion -- be done in the confines of that "traditional system."

    In moving our middle school to a standards-based reporting system (6th grade next year, 7th the following, then 8th -- around 500 students/grade level) we are doing away with the one-letter-for-the-whole-class system. We don't report an overall grade. There's no longer an "English grade." Instead, we report out the progress of each student for each standard.

    This is determined in much the same way you do it, where we are learning and teaching and conferring and learning and teaching and conferring. Students and I are collecting artifacts of their learning then we sit down with the rubrics and talk about where they are, where they've been, and where they're going.


    I think what you are pointing out in your response to my questions is one of those things that ... you just have to see or do to understand. From my vantage point outside your classroom, whether students are docked when the assignment was "due" or when they confer about the grade later doesn't matter, but in your classroom it has made a profound difference. That is all that matters. The students don't feel the weight of the daily "points pressure" anymore and that is enough to know the "system" is working.

    Keep blogging about this. We've all got lots to learn from what you're up to, Court.


  21. As a student I agree that the way the school grading-system is now is not motivating students. Grades should not be the only representation of who someone is, students are more than a number. Assessment and standardized tests should not take priority in education, they should merely be a tool to measure progress. Examinations should consist of a private conversation, and I think many teachers wuold discover more learning than in written exams.

  22. but the school has its own politics to approve such a system

  23. In reading about the system it feels like the teacher is avoiding giving a grade, but still retains the power. Instead of handing out a verdict on proficiency (i.e., a teacher-based grade), there is a discussion on that, but the teacher is still the final decision maker on the final grade.

    These are good reasons to question your system, but I am apprehensive about the solution presented. One key component I notice is that it shifts things from the student to the teacher, which is always good. That said, one of the teacher's main responsibilities is to let kids know where their work stands in relation to what the world expects of them. In the end, teacher endorsed grades are necessary.

    Here are some thoughts about the five points.

    1. Caring more about a student's grade more than the student says as much about a teacher's codependency than anything else. The reason this system presented works is not because of the grade, but the time taken with conferences and process of discussion. By breaking the system, both partner up to create solutions. This can happen in a regular grading system, but many people choose not to do it. It's the relationship, not the grade system, that makes it work.

    2. While a student who starts slow shouldn't be sunk by October, an honest self evaluation is going to factor that in. Missing work should not be a "0" but a "50" if you think in terms of 95 = A, 85 = B.... F = 55, Missing = 50 (some use 40). It keeps kids in the game because it creates an honest average (a 100, 100, 0 should not be a 66 but an 83) By using this system, the early stumbles weigh in, but more accurately reflect a period of time. Also, is there a reason you can't simply give a kid a higher grade (we do), or weigh later work? Many teachers simply grade the summative assessments more than formative (if they grade formative at all; many don't, but just give feedback).

    3. If your assessment is not reflecting actual achievement, it's a poorly designed assessment. Again, a teacher can break the system without losing teacher based grades. Over a grading period, there should be enough assessments to have an accurate measure. Also, there's a difference between a student challenging themselves and a student meeting the requirements of the course. If students can meet the requirements day one, why are they there? And why don't they deserve an A? That's the system, not the grading system.

    4. If you want your grade to reflect achievement, simply grade the work you have. Then, report a separate grade based on work habits--late work, or missing work. Then you can point at writing, reading and work habits and let students and parents know where their weak points are. Just break it down. Our report card has a "total" grade for the course, but also breaks down categories (which we assign in the program) to give everyone insight.

    5. Students never question authentic work, in my experience. That can be making the classroom student centered (which this kind of does) or allowing choice. It does not have to change the grading system.

    Students still need a yardstick and someone talking them through it. While reflections and discussions are good, mainly because everyone focuses on patterns and changing them for the good, students need an authority to show them where they fall. That can happen in the discussion, but an outside grade really hits it home.

  24. Grading is something I have been struggling with during my first year of teaching. This article has really helped me see the other side and so do the comments. I hope over this summer I can sort out what it is I believe in and what will work best for my students next year (if I am lucky enough to get my own class).
    Thanks for sharing!

  25. What blog do your students use? I am having trouble creating a classroom blog without having to pay for it? Any suggestions?