Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Grade

Monte Syrie
January 17, 2019
We give our kids opportunities to show, to demonstrate that they are growing, that they are learning. And then, at some point, the chase has to come to an end, and we have to try to make sense of it all. We have to turn it into a grade. But…

We try. We try all of our days to put our fingers on learning. We try to find and keep what works. We try to avoid and lose what doesn’t. And, through it all, we keep chasing the best ways to foster learning in our classrooms. We give our kids opportunities to show, to demonstrate that they are growing, that they are learning. And then, at some point, the chase has to come to an end, and we have to try to make sense of it all. We have to turn it into a grade. But…

Something there is that doesn’t love a grade.
That finds its fault, that questions its veracity
But at mid-year grading-time we find ourselves there
Seeking a number or letter
We meet there, each to a side
Partners in the journey, the teacher and learner.
There where it is, we do not need the grade,
But the transcript looms, demanding
So fond of its tradition, so proud of its maxim,
“Good grades means good learning.”
End of term is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could plant a notion in its head,
“But how do good grades mean good learning?”
Isn’t there more to it than a number or letter?
And what of the learner? Does she know more than I?
Something there is that doesn’t love a grade.
I could say fairies, but it’s not fairies exactly
And I’d rather it said it for itself. I see it there
Data dotting graphs.
It lives in darkness it seems to me
And not only of paper and spreadsheets.
It will not go behind tradition’s edict, and
It likes having spoken it so long.
It says again, “Good grades means good learning.”

I do not love a grade. I do not find–never have really found–that it captures the essence, the the truth of learning. So, I do different. I seek to get closer to the truth by enlisting, by empowering learners to speak their truth when grading time comes around. For, I believe no one knows the truth of learning better than the learner herself. So I ask her. And I listen. Today, I will listen as I engage in Learning Conferences with my kids through my select-and-support approach to grading.

Here’s the approach.

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined at the end of the semester in a conference between the teacher and student (see below). Here are the final-grade considerations going into the conferences.

  1. To earn credit for the course, students must have attempted all Performances.
  2. To select an A, B, or C grade, students must have demonstrated growth through response to feedback. Basically, if a student only produces the minimum score for all performances, they will not enter into a grading conference. The resulting grade will be a D.
  3. If a student has fulfilled the previous requirements, they will get to select an A, B, or C for a final grade following the process outlined below.

Students will compile evidence from their Performances over the course of the semester. At the end of the semester, students will present their grade selections and evidence (see below) during a conference with their teacher. The students will answer two central questions during the conference.

  1. What evidence do you have that you met the priority standards.
  2. What evidence do you have that you achieved growth with the priority standards?

At the conclusion of the conference, if the teacher feels that the provided evidence sufficiently supports the selected grade, he/she will consent to the grade. If the teacher feels that the selected grade and supporting evidence do not match up, then this will result in continuing the conference until consensus is achieved between the teacher and the student. Our hope is that this is a rare occurrence, for we expect that the process will lead to grades and evidence that clearly connect. Our goal of honoring student ownership remains, but we also have to honor the necessity of providing sufficient evidence for supporting a claim. At the end of the day, it’s really about arriving at a place where both the student and the teacher are comfortable with the outcome.


Our grading approach relies heavily upon evidence that students collect over the term to demonstrate proficiency and growth with the term’s focus standards. Students will maintain an “evidence portfolio” that houses all major assignments and assessments. These documents will be the necessary formal evidence for students to support their selection of grades. However, this is not the only form of evidence that students may use to support their selected grades.

Learning Conferences

Today, we will begin our learning conferences. To prepare, kids were given the three questions below. They will each conduct a 3–5 minute conversation about their learning experience this semester, and we will leave the conversation having arrived at an end, a grade, that we are both comfortable with. Is it the best approach to capturing learning? Probably not. For I believe there’s always a “next better” around the bend. Is it an approach that gets nearer the truth? I believe so. And I think my kids do, too.

Learning Conference Questions

Please consider and answer our Essential Question. How does the human experience connect and divide us? Please provide specific details from class (content and experiences) to support your answer.

What evidence of learning do you have from this semester? Please provide specific examples from your Performances, Journey Journals, and experiences.

What grade best represents your learning from this semester? Why?

Monte Syrie
Monte's motto: Do. Reflect. Do Better. HS ELA Teacher, Project 180 Founder.
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