Timothy Quinn's scholarly but succinct and readable study, On Grades and Grading: Supporting Student Learning through a More Transparent and Purposeful Use of Grades, provides educators and parents a wonderful window on the true purpose of grading, its misuse, and strategies to re-align grading away from 'sorting' of students for honor rolls and college admissions and back to providing data and feedback to students in service to their growth and progress along a learning continuum.
In Part I, the book makes the case for three purposes for the judicious use of grading: to generate data upon which decisions can be made about future practice; to motivate students; and to provide them with feedback. In doing so, Quinn addresses the challenges of preoccupation with grades (students and parents and colleges) for sorting purposes, in which teachers should have little interest or commitment. He shares useful distinctions on grades vs. assessments vs. feedback; on normative vs. formative assessments; on grades as motivator or de-motivators; on the effect of grades in promoting a fixed or growth mindset; etc.: i.e. a comprehensive review of the controversies and conundrums regarding the topic. His conclusion: by de-emphasizing grades (and emphasizing learning), the appropriate use of grades can paradoxically improve achievement, the difference between developing talent and selecting it.
In Part II, Quinn elucidates clearly the various topics that educators endlessly debate: grade inflation; numbers vs. letter grades; summative grading; failing grades; retakes & rewrites; grading behavior and dispositions; grading collaborative work; self-grading; technology & grading.
Overall: I’d grade the book as “Mastery (100% or A+)
(Pat Bassett, President, National Association of Independent Schools)This readable, practical book by an experienced and dedicated educator is a MUST read for all teachers, novices and veterans alike, who have ever grappled with the issues surrounding grades and grading in the classroom. Tim addresses all of the major concerns with respect to grading, providing insightful suggestions as well as presenting potential counter arguments along the way. This book could easily serve as a cornerstone for any professional development program at the secondary level or as a launching point for fruitful and necessary discussions within academic departments or an entire faculty.
(Scott MacClintic, director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT)On Grades and Grading takes the position that grades in schools should support and enhance student learning. This is absolutely the right foundation to set. Quinn’s work helps readers ponder how their own grading practices support and enhance student learning – and if not, what they might do about it – and I recommend it to all educators interested in taking that journey.
(Susan M. Brookhart, Ph.D., senior research associate, Center for Advancing the Study of Teaching and Learning, Duquesne University)While schooling in our society has evolved to incorporate new technologies, promote 21st Century Skills, and utilize research-based 'best practices,' the systems used for grading remain archaic practices that typically lack acceptable measures of reliability and validity. As Quinn aptly states, 'We are a nation addicted to grades, and we are obsessed with them for all the wrong reasons.' This seminal work forces us to confront our own pathology, and then frees us to rethink our practices by offering strategies for grading that focus on learning. I hope this book finds itself onto the desk of every teacher, administrator, and stakeholder so critical conversations can start taking place.
(Marek Beck, Ph.D., director of professional development, Greenwich Country Day School, adjunct professor, Fordham University, chairman of commission on professional development, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools)For several years, I had the pleasure of working alongside Tim Quinn. His enthusiasm for the learning process and willingness to explore the conventional boundaries of contemporary independent education was inspiring. Tim's dedication to research-based theory and principles was evident in his work as an English teacher and as faculty mentor. Tim's commitment to data driven inquiry is no less evident in this work on grading. While almost ubiquitous in the American education experience, grading is a challenging, often nebulous, concern. Quinn covers important issues such as formative and summative assessment, collaboration, self-assessment, and rubrics. He treats each topic with care and balance and brings grading into a workable realm of options supported by philosophical underpinnings. Quinn's book is a must read for all new teachers and for the veteran looking to expand upon principles of good practice.
(Bill Sistare, director of studies and director of the Westminster Teaching Initiative, Westminster School)On Grades and Grading bridges the theoretical and the practical. In an age dominated by increasingly high-stakes assessments, students are—for better or for worse—constantly labeled, grouped, and judged by scores and grades. Yet is the practice of assigning these grades meaningful, or simply a relic of previous decades and antiquated educational models? It is imperative that educators explore more deeply the array of measurements we thrust upon students; Quinn's book forces just such an examination. On Grades will compel you to evaluate the origins of your grading methods and—far more importantly—the effects of these practices on your students.
(Daniel Hershel, English Department Chair, Spaulding High School, Barre, Vermont)Quinn, who teaches English and moral philosophy at a college preparatory school, examines the nature of grades, the process through which they are determined, and their relationship to student learning, with the aim of improving grading systems and policies. He discusses the definition of grades; their pedagogical purposes to provide feedback and data for decision making and motivate students, and how this affects student learning in different ways; and issues and approaches and intended and unintended effects of grading systems and policies, such as grade inflation, number vs. letter grades, summative grades, failure, grading behaviors and dispositions, grading collaborative work, self-assessment and self-grading, technology, inconsistency, using rubrics, and reporting, ending with 12 steps to improving a system.
(Book News, Inc.
)While discussions related to grading in the media, state legislatures, and elsewhere are frequent and passionate, few definitions of the concept are the same. Quinn examines the theoretical ways in which grades are defined, explores some of the many complicated issues devoted to grading, and builds the case that students would be better served if teachers focused on learning rather than grading. Organized into three sections that discuss each of these areas, the book discusses a variety of pertinent issues. These include the pedagogical purposes of grading, grade inflation, the forms of grades, formative and summative assessment, and inconsistency among grades from different individuals and institutions. Quinn also discusses some of the lesser publicized issues regarding grading, including the importance of failure for a child's development, the assessment of collaborative work, the reporting of grades, and the merits of rubrics. Although practical advice is provided for those interested in improving their grading practices, the book also provides ample grist for vigorous discussions related to the topic. A marvelous complement for Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey's Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom (2007). Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.
About the Author
Timothy Quinn holds a B.A. from Amherst College, an Ed.M. from Harvard University, and is currently a candidate for an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Timothy has taught English and Moral Philosophy at a range of independent and international schools, most recently Westminster School (Simsbury, CT) and the University School of Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI), where he is currently the Assistant Head of Upper School.