Today we would like to recommend a 2000 article by Carol Ann Tomlinson entitled “Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation.” Pr. Tomlinson is Chair of Educational Leardership, Foundations, and Policy at the Curry School of Education (University of Virginia), and has written several books on the topic of Differentiated Instruction. The whole article is worth reading as the underlying philosophy of respecting all learners, be they advanced or struggling, is so in synch with our own. However, what we particularly wish to share with you today is what Pr. Tomlinson has to say about grading.
The following questions help ensure that grading practices are productive for all students.
- How do learners benefit from a grading system that reminds everyone that students with disabilities or who speak English as a second language do not perform as well as students without disabilities or for whom English is their native tongue?
- What do we gain by telling our most able learners that they are “excellent” on the basis of a standard that requires modest effort, calls for no intellectual risk, necessitates no persistence, and demands that they develop few academic coping skills?
- In what ways do our current grading practices motivate struggling or advanced learners to persist in the face of difficulty?
- Is there an opportunity for struggling learners to encounter excellence in our current grading practices?
- Is there an opportunity for advanced learners to encounter struggle in our current grading practices?
If, along with us, you answer negatively to the above questions, you may be in a better position than ever to understand why we, at The Magnolia School, do not want to grade our students, why we favor inclusion and preach respect of differences, why teachers tailor assignments so that they are challenging for all the students, why we expect individual students to do their own best, and why feedback is strictly individualized.