I think many of us feel the letter/number grade system is woefully inadequate for evaluating students and providing them with meaningful feedback. But what's the alternative? We have to evaluate students somehow
- how else could we provide trusted certification to students for other educational institutions and employers? Well, a Montessori school I visited in Germany
uses one alternative and it seems to work pretty well. I'll describe the process below.
First of all, instead of letter grades, students receive much more descriptive feedback detailing their strengths and weaknesses, often focusing on their individual goals. For example, instead of handing out a B+, a teacher may write, "Johnny is working much better with others than he was previously. His final work is generally excellent though he does seem to be struggling with time management, spending too much time on some projects, then not having enough for others."
After that, the teacher gets together with the student and parents/guardians to discuss how they're going to contribute to Johnny's future success. That's right, teachers don't just take points away from Johnny, assuming he knows what he's doing wrong and how he can improve. They also don't automatically assume that Johnny is the (only) one who could improve. The teachers and parents/guardians take responsibility and the plan will include what they can do to support Johnny as well.
Some of you may be thinking now, "But without grades, how will other educational institutions and future employers know how Johnny compares to others?" Well, Johnny and his teachers will be keeping an ongoing portfolio of his work, showcasing his abilities. Sure, these portfolios take longer to read than a grade point average, but they have the advantage of actually being representative of the student and not just an indication of how they measured up to an inflexible grading rubric.
I wrote this post because I think it's important for people to know that ditching traditional student evaluation isn't just idealist dreaming - it already exists
and is very successful
in developing effective learners and mature people. I may write more about Montessori schools (and other alternative school models) if people are interested - and very possibly even if they're not. :-)