Grading Smarter Not Harder

114003bFrom the what I’ve been reading files… Grading Smarter not Harder by Myron Dueck shares the research and realities of grading student work.  I haven’t finished the book yet, but already it is changing my way of thinking, and I’m quickly littering the pages with sticky notes and annotations – so much to think about.

As a new school year begins, it may be a good time to rethink your grading policies as an individual teacher, department, or even building.  Dueck’s focus in the book is to guide teachers to creating grading systems that make sense and that reflect academic growth. He speaks strongly against the practice of using grades as a punitive measure – thereby grading compliance and behavior instead of academics.

He does not make hollow pronouncements however – most of the book is dedicated to sharing solutions and offering practical advice on grading, homework, unit plans to support learning, and more.  The ideas are based on solid research and a reminder that “but that is the way we have always done it”  is a really bad reason to continue a practice that is not working.  As I was reading the first sections and confronting the ideas of not grading homework, or not deducting points for late work,  I found myself thinking that many of my past students wouldn’t do anything if it “didn’t count.”  In reality – the research shows that this isn’t true.  We have trained students into that mentality by often requiring busy work that is not important – so, we can retrain them in a new system that is more meaningful.   If my puppy can learn to come each time he is called – without me luring him with a treat – surely students will do classwork and homework without relying on the false reward of a completion grade.

When he discussed late and missing work, I had to agree that what he was saying made sense.  He describes how “behavior-based grading contributes to statistical sabotage,” gives teachers a false sense that compliant students are learning, and actually “perpetuates the disadvantages” faced by many students, causing them to give up and do nothing at all in our classes.

While some of Dueck’s suggestions may seem difficult or even controversial (your principal or parents may not share these philosophies) the outcome is certainly worth some initial discomfort.  By implementing the ideas in the book teachers can improve student learning and ownership, have data that really means something, and my favorite part, spend less time grading!  Better learning for kids – less torture for teachers… that’s a win-win!


Grading Smarter not Harder is an ASCD book – also available on Amazon.  There are also some short YouTube videos with the author you can check out here.

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