I don’t like letter grades. I’m convinced that we can do better by students with new and different perspectives on assessment, grading, and measurement in education. I start out with this strong statement because I want to be honest about my bias (I think it is a carefully considered and thoughtful bias, but it is a bias nonetheless). However, I consistently advocate for being well-informed about the benefits, limitations, and possibilities; and this applies to letter grades too. And since many educators and schools don’t agree with throwing out grades, I offer ways that we can at least improve our use of grades. As such, and at the request of readers, I put together this suggested reading list on letter grades. You will find different philosophies and approaches represented in these books, but working through this list will give you a well-rounded examination of the topic.
Also, stay tuned because I’m working on a documentary on the letter grade system and have a rough draft manuscript called Learning Beyond Letter Grades that I hope to eventually publish.
Standards-based grading has been growing in popularity over the last decade, and this book does a fine job introducing readers to that possibility.
Another book on standards-based grading, this one also does a fine job describing the important role of formative assessment (what I and others call the checkup instead of the autopsy). This is a helpful book in clarifying the purpose of grading.
Are you skeptical about letter grades but you find yourself in a school where people remain committed to the traditional approach to letter grades? If so, this is the book for you. It will give you practical tips on how to de-grade your classroom.
Mark Barnes, the author of this book, is one who is inspiring a movement in going beyond letter grades. His book is simple, practical, but substantive; and it definitely worth the few hours that it takes to read it. Then wander over to the growing Facebook Group that he launched for more discussion.
Maybe you are not ready to let go of letter grades, but you think we can do a better job in our use of letter grades. If that is you, then this is a great book to help with that cause. It helps readers think through the purpose of grades and how we can actually turn grades into something that is more closely tied to student learning.
Better than most, this book makes a solid case for the inadequacies of the modern letter grading system, but draws from research to do it.
Is the grading system broken in your classroom or school? This book is the toolkit to help you pull up your sleeves, get to work, and repair it. It is not a throw out the grades treatise, but instead offers suggested important but incremental changes.
Alfie Kohn is the most outspoken critic today on modern testing and assessment in school, and this book (which is largely a collection of blog posts and other essays) will challenge what many of us think and believe about grades in schools. Some might not agree with Kohn or see him as extreme, but I contend that his position, especially when you see it represented in real-world school contexts, can be quite compelling.
Quinn isn’t trying to get rid of grades. He’s writing to promote a more thoughtful and transparent use of grades in school. Coming from his direct work and experience in K-12 schools, this is a good and useful perspective to add to your intellectual toolbox.
Learning Beyond Letter Grades
This is a shameless plug for my yet-to-be-published book on the subject. The first part of the book is a careful analysis of letter grades, especially their limitations, but then offers a series of ways to leverage different types of feedback to enrich classes, even if your school wants to stay with a traditional grading system. I haven’t published this yet, but I’ll be sure to update this page when it is available. In the meantime, you have the first nine books to enjoy!