For most of us, it’s hard to imagine an education system without traditional letter-grade evaluation. However, some educators pushing for gradeless schools believe that it may not be as useful as it once was. It may actually be harming student performance.
Arthur Chiaravalli, a high school English and math teacher, has made it his mission to advocate for gradeless student evaluation. By co-founding the group Teachers Going Gradeless, he has begun a movement that’s starting to pick up across the country.
Testing Different Evaluation Methods
Chiaravalli points to a study by Professor Ruth Butler of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Butler tested three types of feedback:
- Scores only
- Both scores and written feedback
- Written feedback only
“Students who received scores alone made no improvement,” Chiaravalli says. “The funny thing is when they looked at the score plus comments, which you would think would be the richest form of the types of feedback, what they found is also no improvement.”
Meanwhile, only the group who received written comments alone showed improvement. “Something about the score basically short-circuited the students’ ability to benefit from that narrative feedback,” says Chiaravalli.
More Harm Than Good?
For Chiaravalli, these surprising results indicate a troubling truth about letter grades and how they affect a student’s motivation. “If you did well, it makes you complacent, like there’s nothing more to learn; ‘I figured this out, and I’m pretty much done,’” he says. “And on the other side is, if you do it badly — and in our day and age, they think badly is anything other than an A — you’re discouraged. And so neither one is great for growth mindset.”
Chiaravalli believes that these results can be better understood through Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The book distinguishes between extrinsic motivators, which are based on systems of reward and punishment, and intrinsic motivators which come from having a desire for mastery and a sense of purpose and autonomy.
“Basically what he says is extrinsic motivation works if you’re doing twentieth-century-type skills,” explains Chiaravalli. “So if you want to get someone to stack a bunch of boxes faster, you would do well to give them a reward-a system of rewards and punishments.”
This system doesn’t translate well to more complex twenty-first century work.
“If you give someone a reward for doing a task that requires creativity or critical thinking, or a complex task, they actually do worse when you give them a reward or you give them a punishment.” For these tasks, Pink argues, the best motivation comes from a personal investment in attaining mastery, a sense of the greater importance or utility of the task, and a feeling that they are involved in directing the task.
Advocating For Change
While there’s plenty of research to support the ideas of Chiaravalli and Teachers Going Gradeless, getting people to think outside the context of traditional grading methods has been an uphill battle. “It’s funny, all of us-students, teachers, parents, administrators-to a large extent have been trained in that paradigm of grades, and you know there are some very real things there,” says Chiaravalli, “so we need to be aware of that, and to realize that this is the language people speak nowadays.”
Still, Chiaravalli and Teachers Going Gradeless are committed to showing parents how we can improve student evaluation. “If we want to move on, like I think most of us do in school, you need to find something other than those extrinsic rewards and penalties,” he says.
Teacher Sees A Future With Gradeless Schools – Source
Arthur Chiaravalli, Study by Ruth Butler