The Great Gradeless Experiment #1

I’ve officially been approved to go gradeless in my freshman biology classes! I want to blog my experiences (both successes and failures) for you all. In addition, if you have any experience with standards-based grading or gradeless classes, I would love to hear from you!

For my first gradeless post, I’d like to share some of the rationale behind going gradeless and what I’m planning. Below is essentially the email I sent to my principal about going gradeless, but with less district-specific jargon.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about grading practices these last couple of years. I’ve become frustrated with current grading policies and I’m looking for change. Right now, students are content with doing the required amount of work for whatever grade they’re aiming for, but don’t seem to care about actually mastering the content. Right now, grades seem like a way to measure compliance, but not learning. 

I’ve been reading about standards based grading and gradeless classrooms for 2 years now. Last summer, I didn’t feel confident enough to try a new grading system. Now that I’ve been working in-depth on Marzano and NGSS implementation, I’m feeling like this is something I could do in my classroom. I’ve been looking at the Marzano assessment scale for student work and it seems like something that would lend itself wonderfully to a gradeless classroom.

These are just some thoughts I’ve had about implementing a gradeless classroom:

  1. I would use my gradebook to keep track of the assignments students complete. For example, I would record whether an assignment was completed, partially completed, or not turned in. This score wouldn’t contribute to a student’s grade, but would be a tool to track participation and would provide more information for me, the students, and their parents. My rationale is that students master content with different amounts of practice. I don’t want a student’s grade to be hurt because they didn’t turn in a study guide for content that they know well. On the flipside, if a student is struggling to learn the content, I would have a record of how much effort a student has put into their learning.
  2. I want to use lab notebooks for students to track their learning. With each unit, I want to give students a place for them to record the unit and daily questions (the big ideas I’m trying to teach), to keep track of what activities/assignments help with learning the corresponding unit content, summaries of each unit/assessments, and for them to rate their own understanding of each unit.
  3. Instead of grading assignments for accuracy and giving students a score, I would be looking for understanding and providing students with feedback. Students would be welcome to try assignments again and to make revisions until they master the content. Instead of grades, I want to keep track of how well I think students are mastering the content, using Marzano’s 0-4 scale. My co-worker and I are developing a rubric for each unit for us to track learning progress. 
  4. At the end of each grading period for progress reports and the end of each quarter, I want to sit down with each student individually and we would decide on their letter grade together. I want students to advocate for themselves using evidence. They should show me the data they’ve kept on their learning progress in their lab notebooks, and I would have the data I’ve recorded using the rubrics we’re making. I want students to have a say in their grade and to explain to me why they deserve it. At the end of the quarter, the only grade in the gradebook that would contribute to their final grade would be the grade we decided on together. “

I’ll be attempting this with my co-worker, Peggy Porter. If you’re curious about the work we’ve done so far, check out the following link.

For a list of our units and unit questions (Shout-out to Camden Burton. We used some of the language from his curriculum document that he posted a while back!):

For the rubric we’ll be using to assess student knowledge in each unit:

(Note: Both of these documents are first drafts, and the rubric document is only a little over half-way completed. Both will be updated throughout the summer.)

Peggy and I are looking forward to this experiment! We’ll be updating throughout the semester with our findings and student data.



Author: Kelly Kluthe

I teach AP Biology, College Biology, and General Biology at Olathe West HS in Olathe, KS.

3 thoughts on “The Great Gradeless Experiment #1”

  1. This sounds really interested. Kudos for trying something ‘scary’. Keep us posted, I’m already sharing your story with colleagues!

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