One school reform that I believe merits strong consideration is to change the ways we evaluate educational progress. As we assess students, we ought to be encouraging students to discover and cultivate their special gifts. Students also ought to be encouraged to work with others in bringing their gifts to the world. It would help if students had more power in how their evaluations are done.
Most schools, and Dunham is no exception, use some form of grading to evaluate student learning. Giving A’s B’s C’s D’s and F’s is so common we seldom think about the damage grading does to learning. Grades have many unintended consequences, among them strongly discouraging most students—all but the top few A students.
Some schools have experimented doing away with grades altogether. They have had remarkable success. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, PA has done away with grades in their history classes. Instead of grades, students are simply given an interview and asked,
- What did you do well in this assignment?
- What did you find challenging?
- What would you do differently if you did it again?
That’s it. But think. Do you see how this sort of ungraded feedback encourages students to do better work? And notice: no one is being compared with anyone else. This would encourage some of the geniuses hidden among the B, C, and D students to flower.
Wonderful things happened in Springside Chestbut Hill Academy’s ungraded history classes:
- Students in the middle and bottom of the classes came alive as if freed from prison.
- Students there loved to learn. They set higher goals for themselves.
- The “A” students had to get past their “pleasing the teacher” mode and actually engage with the material. (“A “students had the most difficulty adjusting to an ungraded system.
If you’re interested in reading more about ungraded schools, here is a link to a blog post by Hadley Ferguson, the teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy who has more to say on this topic.