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de-testing and de-grading schools

Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization


Edited By Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas

A century of education and education reform, along with more than three decades of high-stakes testing and accountability, reveals a disturbing paradox: education has a steadfast commitment to testing and grading. This commitment persists despite ample research, theory, and philosophy revealing the corrosive consequences of both testing and grading in an education system designed to support human agency and democratic principles. This revised edited volume brings together a collection of updated and new essays that confronts the failure of testing and grading. The book explores the historical failure of testing and grading; the theoretical and philosophical arguments against testing and grading; the negative influence of tests and grades on social justice, race, class, and gender; and the role that they play in perpetuating a deficit perspective of children. The chapters fall under two broad sections. Part I, Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education, includes essays on the historical, theoretical, and philosophical arguments against testing and grading. Part II, De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform, presents practical experiments in de-testing and de-grading classrooms for authentic learning experiences.
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Chapter Fourteen: Journey into Ungrading


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Journey INTO Ungrading


It is often easy to identify the beginning of an adventure, but where that journey will take you is usually a mystery. That was certainly the case with my adventure into ungrading and using portfolios for assessment. There have been many unexpected twists and turns in the road, unanticipated challenges as well as significant and rewarding successes. When I asked my administration if I could teach an ungraded class, I knew that I was stepping away from the security of my established practice and into a place where all of my skills and knowledge would have to be applied in fresh ways. A new adventure was truly starting. I asked for and was given permission to teach the only ungraded class in my school. The school was in a time of transition, and teachers had been challenged to experiment with the best strategies for meeting the changing needs of 21st-century students. My class, seventh-grade history, became a place where learning took place within a new set of standards and expectations. While there were a wide variety of assignments and assessments, none of them was going to end in a grade.

Over the course of my career, I have moved from believing that bad grades were motivational to seeing them as tools that often reprimand and demoralize students. I have rarely seen the response to a bad grade be energy...

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