Human Restoration Project

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47: Redefining Assessment by Implementing Gradeless Learning feat. Jeffery Frieden, Aaron Blackwelder, & Nick Covington

Ep. 47

On today's podcast, we're looking at the gradeless movement. There's a lot to be debated in the education system, but I'm hard-pressed to find a topic so steeped in research as this one. Whether it be motivation, willingness to learn, and even traditional test scores, not giving a grade shows improvement across the board.

There's countless research articles, books, podcasts, psychologists, education experts, and more writing and studying the effects of grades. And every single time, whether it be 1850 or 2019, it seems to support the same outcome:

  1. Grades diminish motivation and do little to actually provide feedback for students to improve.
  2. If there is research that supports grades, it's stating that they improve standardized test scores, not necessarily motivate or improve student outcomes.

I challenge you to find data that supports otherwise. I say that not out of spite for those who disagree with the practice, but because I'm genuinely curious if there is any. This appears to be one of these things that's "common sense."

People have thought this way for awhile, even back in Dewey and Thorndike's time. Ironically, grades were intentionally brought into schools as a way to show student growth overtime - a way to open up dialogue between teacher and student - but they've done the exact opposite. Essentially, grades are a shortcut that communicates pass or failure, with many students seeing anything under an A as "failure." And those at the bottom, who receive an "F", are pushed out of our schools - rank and filed to be the "losers" of the education system.

But there's a lot of barriers to best practice, and going gradeless isn't easy. Many districts have gradebook requirements, whether that be simply just giving a kid a grade or even requiring a grade per week. And therefore, many don't even attempt "the impossible." I'm here (with our guests) to show that it is possible! There are educators throughout the world "going gradeless" even in traditional systems. Of course there are various degrees of making this happen, but going as far as possible within one's district for the benefit of their students is worthwhile.

GUESTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

Jeffery Frieden, an English educator at Hillcrest High School in Corona, California, and founder of Make Them Master It, an organization aimed at connecting teachers to mastery-based practice and identifying teacher struggle through a podcast, book, and blogs.

Aaron Blackwelder, an English educator in Woodland Public Schools in Woodland, Washington, and founder of Teachers Going Gradeless, an organization aimed at providing resources and connecting educators who diminish or eliminate the use of extrinsic motivators.

Nick Covington, a Social Studies educator at Ankeny High School in Ankeny, Iowa, who promotes progressive education in his own practice including developing portfolio-based gradeless assessments.

RESOURCES

FURTHER LISTENING

More Episodes

10/17/2020

80: Pandemic Pods, School Choice, and Combating Inequity w/ Dr. Jon Hale

Ep. 80
Today, Chris and I (Nick) are joined by John Hale, whose biography you will hear at the beginning of the interview. John was recently the guest of a Soho Forum debate on the topic of pandemic pods, which you heard excerpts of at the beginning of this episode and confined in its entirety on YouTube.Since the Human Restoration Project has primarily been focused on pedagogy and changing the structures of school, I wanted to have John on to talk more about the history and ramifications of education policy and help us unpack what's really going on in our current conversations about pandemic pods, voucher programs and the recently announced Bezos Academy. How can we simultaneously acknowledge that schools need to change while being critical advocates for the need for public institutions and employee unions? How have market oriented takes on so-called school choice actually subverted the original intent of independent and charter schools? It's a really interesting conversation and it was great to talk to John. I'm sure we'll have him on again to talk education policy, history and organization in the future.GUESTSDr. Joe Hale, professor of educational policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois, Urban-Champaign, and author of the forthcoming book, "The Choice We Face" (working title)RESOURCESJeff Bezos is opening a tuition-free preschool for underserved children (CNN)Savage Inequalities by Jonathan KozolSmall Schools and ChoiceRevisited by Deborah MeierFURTHER LISTENINGAre ‘Pandemic Pods’ a Symptom of the Public School Monopoly? A Soho Forum Debate (YouTube)