I teach in a school that requires me to hand in three classmarks each semester for Grades 7-10. These marks are totalled and then used in conjunction with the school-based common examination results each semester to sort the students. On the twice yearly school report cards, students receive their place in each class, ranked against their peers, ie 13/25 and a grade from A-E which shows their place in the year group. Once students are in Grades 11 and 12, the grading requirements escalate in preparation for the Higher School Certificate at the end of Grade 12.
The three classmarks that I am required to submit can be based on anything, yet they are expected to adequately sort the students. I once tried to submit the same mark for all students and I was told that I was being unprofessional. My attempts at grading students for their participation, or having them self-assess their progress have been unsuccessful. Grading students for participation created an artificial dynamic in the classroom. Having students self-assess is simply unfair when it comes to ranking them against their peers.
I do not believe that the purpose of schooling is to sort, sift and grade students. I am critical of a system where a number is accepted as an adequate representation of learning, and I am critical of a system that makes learning competitive. I feel like the grading requirements turn me into an accountant instead of a teacher. Yet I struggle to resist the temptation to place a number on student’s work. Grades serve as a mask that I can hide behind. While I teach my students about moral courage, I sometimes fail to demonstrate it myself.
Grading, marking, ranking and judging students can only damage a learner’s inquisitiveness and learning spirit. Students are judged by their grades and they judge themselves by their grades. Disturbing consequences can accompany students’ beliefs that earning grades is the point of going to school. They can come to view learning as a chore, they can avoid challenging tasks, they can fall apart when they fail, they can think less deeply, and most obviously, they come to value ability more than effort.
While I may advocate to change the system, I accept that grading requirements are a professional obligation. However, at the end of the day, I want students to leave my class knowing that they are more than a grade, that one size does not fit all, and that our individual differences make us better.