We Don’t Give Grades

church-report-card-imageStudents in our Social Entrepreneurial program don’t receive grades for their work. There are several reasons for this.

First, grades do not reflect a student’s real learning; instead, they reflect the student’s ability to comply with their teacher’s expectations and to fit into a spectrum of their peers. At LiHigh School, we only expect a student to move forward with their learning: to improve on their current skills, to develop new ones, and to master strategies for overcoming internal and external obstacles. Just because a student is thirteen years old doesn’t mean she needs to have the same skills or knowledge as other thirteen year olds. She may have trauma in her past; she may not have enough to eat each day; she may have focused on developing as a cartoonist rather than a mathematician — with all of her differences, why should she be graded on the same scale as someone else?

Second, grades rarely take into account a student’s growth over the course of a quarter, basing itself on the final product or suite of products. I had a student who began a seminar on U.S. government with almost zero knowledge, much less than I had assumed for the base knowledge to begin the class, which meant that he was unable to succeed on many of the early assignments; his final project was also much more shallow than those of his peers. If I had to give him a straight up letter grade, he may have just cracked a C. But the growth he demonstrated from the start of the course revealed significant learning that he ought to have been proud of, learning that wouldn’t be captured by that “C.”

Third, the process of grading often prevents teachers from focusing on the actual teaching, stealing precious hours away from our prep time. I teach a lot of seminars in the humanities — philosophy, theology, history, creative writing, law, etc. In a traditional school, I’d probably spend a majority of my time developing quizzes to ensure students were doing the readings, grading papers using a point-based rubric, and tracking all kinds of numbers in a spreadsheet (not to mention uploading those grades onto a website where parents could track their student’s progress). But because we don’t have grades at LiHigh, teachers instead spend our time developing lesson plans that will bring the students into a subject in a smooth and engaging manner; we also have time to figure out strategies that will individualize the lesson for each of the students in the class.

The fourth reason we don’t give grades in the Social Entrepreneurial program is because grades prevent students from developing a sense of intrinsic motivation. Every year, our newer students are always asking us, “Can I get credit for doing X?” or “Will this count for Y?” I love these kinds of questions, because it gives me the chance to remind them, “We don’t do credits here.” We don’t ask our students to complete their assignments in order to earn a checkmark in some book. Instead, we ask them to be honest with themselves, and if they think something is important for them to learn, to then commit themselves fully to learning it. “Can I get credit for doing X?” Who cares? How about, “Why do you think doing X is important?”

Now, to be clear, just because we don’t give grades doesn’t mean we don’t assess our students. They are assessed on a daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly basis. But they’re assessed for who they are and what they’re doing. They’re assessed for how they persevere when they face obstacles, for how they improve from where they are, for how they’re being honest and open with themselves, and for how committed they are to developing a true sense of passion.

Those assessments come in the form of conversations and stories. They come from portfolio reviews and long letters home to parents/guardians. They come from public demonstrations with audience feedback. They come from placing student products next to real-world examples of similar works and trying to figure out if and how they differ.

But none of that takes the form of a grade.

And that is just one of the reasons why I love teaching here.