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Why have grades?

Austin Buell

It does not take much to turn a creative environment into a conforming one. A classroom level experiment on how prompts can heavily influence the outcome of the student's work is then further analyzed in terms of grades effects.

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  • Kris Giere

    I've been saying this to my colleagues for years, and the most common response that I get is students only do work if there is a grade attached. I believe that students will do work that is personal, authentic, and interesting to them in some way.

    • Austin Buell

      There are plenty of studies to indicate that students would work without grades. Daniel Pink wrote a great book on self-motivation called drive that dispels many of the myths surrounding motivation. In a school setting,. The Sudbury Valley Schools have been successfully operating since 1968 without grades or even a standard curriculum.

      • Kris Giere

        I have read Drive and I agree with your stance. I was just pointing out the bullheaded opposition that I consistently run into.

        The systematic issue that I see is the dollars that are tied directly to student GPA and test scores. If we can move to a different way to assign dollars, then I think a transition to a system that doesn't use grades will become possible.

        I want to iterate that I am in favor of this concept and firmly believe in its viability.

        • Austin Buell

          I might have been a little too concise. I didn't think we had opposing views, although I can see how I wrote my reply could be seen that way!

          The GPA related money is definitely a difficult obstacle. In Oregon (where I live) charter school growth is being stymied by the district because it takes funds out of the schools. Innovation has been reduced to hoping there will be enough wiggle room in the common core standards for it to take place. Policy change on funding would be huge!

          • Kris Giere

            I have worked with some K-12 teachers on Project Based Learning curricula that aligns with the current Common Core guidelines (we all know that standards are subject to whimsical change) and that curricula inspires students to learn for the sake of learning (I interacted with a student panel that articulated that exact concept). I still have hope for the Common Core to not impede innovation. I'd prefer if we didn't rely on arbitrary measurements of knowledge to determine educational prowess, but my hope is that teachers will be able to truly teach again with the "wiggle room" as you put it that the Common Core has.

            As for charter schools, I am more of a pessimist. I used to be hyped on them solely because of the potential they have; however, I have seen too many fail to educate students due to being run like a business rather than a place of education.

            The money issue is a big one. As long as we have to have a product to trade for funding, GPA and graduation rates will always stay center stage. The products that teachers often point to are invalidated by funding agencies because of claims of subjectivity or complexity. Even more so, the true quality of education to me is best seen years after the student has left the school through the actions for good that he or she does for/in the community.

            • Austin Buell

              I also have hope for the common core, I really like that they reduced the length of the check list in order to allow teachers to further pursue depth in each area. There are also some great groups working on providing support materials, such as the Waters Foundation, to increase the impact of the CCS. I remain cautiously optimistic.

              I get what you are saying on charter schools, especially if they are being run to make money. Personally I don't think a school should ever be managed by for profit interests. Honestly, I think innovation in education needs to come from outside of the public system. Currently my thought is that private non-profit schools designed as lab schools to explore a complete overhaul is the avenue. I'm not sure policy driven reform is powerful enough at this point.

              I agree on the quality of education being in the action for and in the community. I think being able to shift the focus from GPA' to community impact is beneficial but not substantive enough to make the desired change. However, discussing these metrics and integrating them into an educational paradigm shift is essential.