FromDegrading to De-Grading
Thearticle “From degrading to de-grading” was authored by AlfieKohn, published in the High School Magazine in March 1999, and itsgoal is to advance an argument that the grading system is adisadvantage to the learning process. Kohn (1999) explains threenegative effects of grading students. First, the author argues thatthe tendency to give grades to students limits their interest inlearning. This argument is supported by the data showing thatlearning and grading orientation have an inverse relationship.Secondly, Kohn (1999) supports the main argument using the studyfindings showing that learners who are subjected to the gradingsystem tend to prefer simple to complex tasks. The third argumentagainst the grading system is that it reduces the quality oflearners’ thinking. Kohn (1999) supports this assertion by arguingthat students avoid engaging in deep reasoning as long as what theyknow will enable them to score high grades. Kohn (1999) argues thatmost of the educators are aware of the negative effects of the gradeon learner. However, they insist on grading their students since theyhave become inured to these effects. One of the key objections madeby educators is the fact that students are already addicted togrades. In addition, some teachers argue that colleges rely ongrades to admit the high school students into their institutions.However, Kohn (1999) argues that this resistance from administratorsand educators can be addressed by opening a constructive debate andeliminating the grading system in stages. The arguments made by Kohn(1999) are supported by psychological ideas, but there are adequateempirical studies to support the grading system. Grading motivateslearners to provide quality responses and prepare them for theexperiences that they expect to encounter in the real world. Studentsachievement at the college may be improved using various techniquesincluding advising students on the strategies such as timemanagement, effective note taking as well as the importance ofstudying. The ideas in the thesis are good, but the wording isunclear.
Timemanagement can also help students succeed in college. Activitiesincrease as the students move to higher levels of education. Abbadescribed the concept of time management by stating that, “it is aset of principles, practices, skills, tools, and systems that help ususe time to accomplish what we want” (p. 2). This calls foreffective time management in order to enable students to carry outtheir responsibilities and save some time for studies. Studentsshould develop a timetable that can help them schedule all activitieswhile prioritizing those that are more important, especially thestudies (Abba, 2011). An effective plan can also help learners avoidprocrastinating significant tasks, which gives them an opportunity tomeet the deadlines.
Note-takingskills are crucial in ensuring success in college. Human memory tendsto fade away with time. Students forget what they have learned inclass, which limits ability to succeed in college. This challenge canbe successfully addressed by taking meaningful notes. The strategyprovides students with the material that they need to peruse shortlybefore sitting for their exams, thus increasing their competence andthe opportunity to succeed. While discussing the significance ofwriting short notes in class, Quintus & Borr stated, “One goalof education is retention of knowledge for lifelong learning,assessment, and note-taking can help students as they reach thisgoal” (p. 28). The strategy of documenting what one is learning hasa positive impact on the memory. These notes also serve as a reliablesource of reference, in case one forgets some ideas.
Studyingand constantly reviewing notes also acts as a major contributingfactor to student success in college. Some ideas are hard tounderstand by hearing about them once. Consequently, a regular reviewof what has been learned in classroom plays a critical role inkeeping the students’ memory fresh. Dunlosky stated, “Cognitivepsychologists have been developing and evaluating easy-to-uselearning techniques that could help students achieve their learninggoals” (p. 4). One of these approaches involves a regular review ofthe notes. The strategy gives learners an opportunity to keep trackof what has been taught in class.
Gradingimproves the quality of reasoning and the entire learning process.Kohn (1999) argues that grading lowers the quality of thinking amongstudents. This argument has been countered by the findings of aqualitative study that was conducted by Reddan (2013) to assess theimpact of the grading system on the work-integrated learning. Reddanstates, “They perceived that grading of the course increased theirmotivation to submit high quality responses for all assessment itemsand provided them with an opportunity to improve their grade pointaverage (p. 223)”. The findings of this study indicated that themajority of students prefer the graded assessment system since ithelps them provide quality responses. It is evident that the authordoes not object the process of assessing the learners’ overallacademic performance. Kohn (1999) proposes that the administratorsshould develop the assessment methods that do not integrate thegrading of students. Therefore, the significance of assessingstudents remains a constant factor whether their grading is includedor not. To this end, the findings reported by Reddan (2013) indicatedthat the inclusion of the grading system adds value to the assessmentprocess. The fact that students are aware of the fact that they willbe graded at the end of the course motivates them work hard and takecare of the quality of the responses that they provide in each of theassessment items. Therefore, the desire to provide quality responsescontributes towards an improvement in students’ ability to think.
Gradingleads to the achievement of curriculum objectives, as opposed to whatKohn (1999) stated. An empirical study conducted by Reddan (2013)indicated that the distortion in the school curriculum as well as thevalue that students attach to the learning process is caused byfactors other than the grading system. Reddan stated, “Thoseinvolved in the curriculum design of work-integrated courses need toensure the features of critical reflection, formative feedback andauthentic assessment tasks are given high priority in theirconsideration” (p. 224). The quality of the curriculum can beretained and its intended outcomes achieved when the stakeholdersinvolved in the design of the assessment items include features thatencourage formative feedback, critical reflection, and authenticevaluation of learners. These findings suggest that it is the natureas well as the quality of assessment that influence the delivery ofcurriculum and achievement of its intended outcomes, and not thegrading system. Grading enhances the learning process whilemotivating students to achieve the curriculum goals.
Thenature of the student’s assessment has the capacity to shift theobjectives of the grading system. For example, an empirical studyconducted by Miller (2013) showed that the application ofstandard-based grading system motivates students to provide detailedfeedback and enable the educators to achieve the goals of thelearning process. Miller states, “Themost important purpose of grades is frequent, detailed feedback and,therefore, the best reference point must be specific objectives,standards, or other learning goals” (p. 112). Thestudy indicated that an assessment that focuses on the evaluation ofthe students’ ability to master the standards could give educatorsthe opportunity to retain the grading and the assessment systems, buttheir purpose would shift in a significant way. These study findingsaddress one of the key arguments made by Kohn (1999) that gradingmotivate students to submit assignments on time in order to scorehigh marks, instead of mastering the content of the curriculum. Undera standards-based grading system, it does not matter the number ofassignments that individual students are able to compete (Miller,2013). It helps the stakeholders in the education sector to determinewhether students are learning, instead of how much they are doing.
Theprimary goal of the education system is to prepare learners toaddress the challenges and experiences in the real world, and gradingof students contributes towards this objective. Kohn (1999) isstrongly opposed to the issue of grading students, which isinconsistent with the primary objective of the education system. Kohn(1999) argues that people tend to lose an interest in what they aredoing when they get rewarded. “A traditional grade stratifiesstudents according to their level of achievement and can motivatestudents, reward effort and possibly signify suitability for apotential area of study” (p. 225). According to Reddan (2013) thereal world is characterized by the existence of stiff competition andan environment in which rewards motivate people to achieve differentgoals. Although Kohn (1999) supports this argument usingpsychological studies, the real world in which students are expectedto work after graduation puts a lot of emphasis on reward andpunishment as the key strategies for regulating human behavior andperformance. Moreover, the grading system prepares learners to aworking environment in which competition is the order of the order.
AlfieKohn addresses a controversial issue of students’ grading bysupporting the idea that it should be removed. However, there isadequate empirical evidence indicating that the grading systemprepare learners to experiences that they should expect in the realworld after completing the school. In addition, Kohn blames theprocess of grading on the decline in the learners’ quality ofthinking. However, studies have confirmed that the quality ofthinking and the overall objective of the learning process areshifted by the nature of the assessment items, and not the gradingsystem. Therefore, the stakeholders need to address weaknesses in thestrategies used to assess learners, instead of blaming the gradingsystem for the decline in the quality of thinking. Therefore, thegrading system adds value to the students’ assessment process.Although the Kohn’s article is inconsistent with most parts of theempirical evidence, it is an important text that initiates asignificant debate about the issue of grading students.
Abba,K. (2011). Understanding the importance of time management toassistant restrictor’s in the registrar’s department f theUniversity of Education. InternationalJournal of Scientific and Engineering Research,3 (12), 1-16.
Dunlosky,J., Rawson, A., Marsh, J., Nathan, J. & Willingham, T. (2013).Improving student’s learning with effective techniques: Promisingdirections from cognitive and educational psychology. PsychologicalScience in the Public Interest,14 (1), 4-58.
Kohn,A. (1999). From degrading to de-degrading. HighSchool Magazine.Retrieved December 26, 2016, fromhttp://www.alfiekohn.org/article/degrading-de-grading/
Miller,J. (2013). A better grading system: Standards-based, student-centeredassessment. EnglishJournal,103 (1), 111-118.
Quintus,L. & Borr, M. (2012). The impact of the Cornell note-takingmethod on students’ performance in a high school family andconsumer sciences class. Journalof Family and Consumer Education,30 (1), 27-38.
Reddan,G. (2013). To grade or not grade: Student perceptions of the effectsof grading a course in work-integrated learning. Education,14 (4), 223-232.