- In Molly Nealeigh’s 4th-grade math classroom, students work on their own learning path during 12-week periods, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Rather than grades, the children in Nealeigh’s North Carolina elementary school aim to master 80 to 100% of a learning standard, but are given time to move through the work at their own speed.
- Feeling they have the freedom to pursue their own personal “pathways,” as Nealeigh calls them, students end up so excited, they’ll work on school projects during vacations and even weekends.
Grades are a crucial way to give students feedback on where they stand on their educational pathways. So too are written comments, verbal responses and other assessment tools that ultimately do the same thing: help learners know how they are progressing.
Grades, however, can also be a deterrent, according to a 2014 study published in CBE Life Sciences Education. The authors noted that “accuracy-based grading may, in fact, demotivate students and impede learning.” The study also suggests that teachers spend less time grading and place more emphasis on using other tools, including self and peer evaluations and effort-based grading.
Certainly, administrators need to measure how students are progressing toward standards. But designing curriculum for a mastery-based grading model, as opposed to a traditional A-F grading scale, could boost student learning rather than impede it.