Politics

Excellence Awaits: Professors Make Their Case for Ending Grades

For reasons I can’t understand, it seems society has decided excellence is the enemy.

Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood — maybe there’s an excellent reason for American education putting an end to grades.

At Boston University, some believe so.

For local news site WBUR, Professors Marisa Milanese and Gwen Kordonowy recently penned “Why We Stopped Grading Our Students on Their Writing.”

It’s a bold move.

Not long ago, meritocracy was thought to make America great.

Hence, people were scored according to performance. Employees were hired and promoted based on the same.

But these are the days of equity, which — so far as I can tell — is often code for a communistic forcing of inferiority.

For better or worse, Marisa and Gwen — along with many others in their field — are saying goodbye to grading.

Per their article, the Boston academics’ decision was “motivated by students’ trauma during the pandemic.”

But don’t get them wrong:

Don’t get us wrong: We still carefully read and comment on our students’ work. But we no longer place a letter or number on anything they write. No As and Bs. No 82s or 94s.

It’s a special and sophisticated approach:

The pedagogical approach we’re using is called “contract grading,” which is spreading across universities, particularly in writing programs like ours at Boston University.

What’s the key to developing a super skillset?

To hear the professors tell it, it’s minimum expectations:

Although there are numerous ways to structure it, contract grading typically involves minimum expectations for students to earn a final course grade. These expectations are unrelated to performance: Attend class and participate, meet due dates, fulfill the criteria of every assignment, make substantive revisions and so on — the kinds of “activities and behaviors that will lead to learning,” as composition scholar Peter Elbow put it. In other words, do the work, earn the grade.

But what if you do the work, but you stink at it? Are you doomed to continued stench?

Such a smell may be coming to a subject near you:

Contract grading is part of the larger “ungrading” movement, the subject of a recent anthology edited by anthropologist Susan D. Blum. The book’s subtitle — “Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead)” —summarizes the premise at its core.

The authors admit “letter grades often play the role of a motivational tool,” yet “external motivations squash internal ones like curiosity and interest, the mindsets that motivate actual learning.”

Hopefully, curiosity can make up for quality.

I’m curious about the future:

Professor Razes the Evil of Writing Rules, Whacks White Supremacy by Gonging Grades

Virginia School District Targets Inequity by Shooting at Grades and Deadlines

College Schools Students and Staff on Microaggressions’ ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ and the ‘Myth of Meritocracy’

In Order to Attack ‘Systemic Racism,’ a School Eliminates Failure and Time Constraints

Is grading prejudicially oppressive? Marisa and Gwen sock it to standards:

There’s a crucial equity piece here, too. Typically, the students who tend to get the highest grades on their writing are native English speakers with highly educated parents — those students who attended the best high schools, the kinds with smaller classes, teachers who have more time to give feedback and even private tutoring on the side. But as universities diversify their student populations, more of our students arrive from under-resourced schools. The architect of the kind of grading contract that many of us employ, Asao Inoue, has argued that all forms of assessment (which) “exist within systems that uphold singular, dominant standards” should be dismantled. We’re still assessing student writing in our comments. But course grades now reflect the work students put in, not the property values of their school district.

About their students, the instructors make a claim some might find hard to believe:

Their writing has never been better.

Whatever the case, if all of education stops scoring pupils’ progress in a way that forces them to improve, “has never been better” is likely a description that will go the way of the do-do bird.

Or maybe that bird never left us, and American schooling is now being managed by a dodo.

-ALEX

 

See more content from me:

Thick of the Fight: LA Will Give Super Bowl Attendees 5-Layer Face Masks

America’s Surgeon General Wants Big Tech to Censor Joe Rogan — and You, if You’re out of Step

Fauci Puts Two-Year-Olds on Notice: Prepare for Multiple Doses of the COVID Vaccine

Find all my RedState work here.

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