Grades and Behavior
What happens when students don't receive grades? Grades are a near universal feature of education, but plenty of more progressive educators don't like them (Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards" comes to mind). Grades create negative competition, they say, are always a bit arbitrary, and make learning about external rewards, not inherent value.
They have a point that grades affect behavior. But some data out of a few business schools shows that the behavioral costs of not having grades are pretty big too.
According to Sept. 12's Business Week, student grades at the University of Chicago's biz school, Wharton (UPenn), Stanford and Harvard are not dislosed to recruiters. Students can't make them available voluntarily, either. Since people generally go to business school in order to get better managerial jobs coming out, this in essence means that grades have no impact on student lives.
Nondisclosure policies were adopted to encourage teamwork and allow students to take harder classes without fear of the results.
But what is the result? Vice-Dean Anjani Jain of Wharton writes in a recent Wharton Journal article that the time students spend on academics has fallen 22% in the four years since the non-disclosure policy was adopted at his school. Professors have had to resort to near-primary school tactics to keep students engaged (Harvard Business School takes attendance).
It turns out that yes, grades are external rewards, but most people work for external rewards. Particularly motivated students may not need grades -- gifted students' independent studies come to mind -- but in general grades create a culture of accountability. And most students need that.