Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning


Mark Barnes

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    “Revolutionary. Why? Tossing out grades does not equate to tossing out learning. We spend a lot of time talking about data and growth. In Assessment 3.0, Mark Barnes focuses on the revelation and growth of the Independent Learners— our students. This is a great read for any teacher or administrator.”

    —Creed Anthony, Teacher/Writer of “Your Parent-Teacher Conference” weekly column on

    “I loved every single concept, proposal, and piece of advice in Mark Barnes’ latest book, Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Do you want a vision to revolutionize our relationships with students? Read the book. Do you want a blueprint for how you, as a teacher or administrator, can create a learning environment that nurtures high functioning citizens? Read the book. Do you want a class structured so that each child is academically challenged, and supported to meet challenges? Read the book. Barnes joins the ranks of educators, who through his words and actions, is saying, ‘We are now the means of extraordinary changes in our schools.’”

    —Jeffrey Benson, Author, Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most

    “This text contains outstanding resources for communicating to stakeholders who care about how assessment systems can impact student behaviors and performances. If you are interested in changing how students and teachers view traditional grading systems, this book is a must read. Assessment 3.0 can be a revolutionary tool.”

    —D. Allan Bruner, National Board Certified Teacher

    “Mark Barnes is a leader and revolutionary voice in the movement to rid our educational system of an outdated assessment model. In Assessment 3.0, he delivers a persuasive pitch that current grading practices are both poor reflections of learning and damaging to students. Not only does he clearly define the problem, he offers a powerful solution with his SE2R model and delivers a blueprint for implementation that can transform classrooms and schools.”

    —Dave Burgess, Educator, Professional Development Speaker, and Author of Teach Like a Pirate

    “This book could turn the teaching community on its ear! A new way to assess students without letters or numbers—a novel approach to grades.”

    —Diane Callahan, Retired Teacher

    “Nothing destroys a student’s creativity and passion for learning as quickly or as completely as grades. Mark Barnes examines how that happens in Assessment 3.0, but he does much more than simply critique standard assessment tools, which have remained virtually unchanged in America for over 100 years. The veteran teacher guides readers through a fascinating investigation of how throwing out grades, while embracing digitally-enhanced independent learning, fosters a superior learning environment—one that also does a far better job of developing real-world skills that prepare students to excel in the world of tomorrow. This book has completely transformed how I approach teaching, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anybody interested in the future not just of education but also our nation.”

    —David Cutler, National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future

    “Mark has done something important in writing this book. He argues—clearly and with hope—for specific, actionable change right now in our early 21st century classrooms. Here’s the potential, here’s the problem, and here’s a way forward. This is a practical model for ed reform in general.

    Assessment 3.0 illuminates the ample underbelly of traditional education practice by shining a floodlight on one of the most powerful icons—and relics—of its past: the letter grade. Rather than simply criticizing grades as “harmful,” Mark presents a compelling case for the impact of grading practices on how students learn, and in doing so maintains focus on the reason we’re all here—students and learning.

    A recurring theme throughout the book is one of practice and application— honest assessment of what works, and ideas for making it happen. The book is, then, imminently useful for any educator— those wanting to think about their craft, and those simply looking for ideas for tomorrow morning. In that way, there can’t be higher praise.”

    —Terry Heick, Director of TeachThought

    “The way we assess student development and student work is a source of frustration to thousands of student, parents and teachers across America. With Assessment 3.0, Mark Barnes challenges us to rethink the traditional A–F grading scale in favor of a more results-oriented methodology of providing feedback to our students. Whether you abandon your gradebook completely after reading this book or merely turn a critical eye toward your practices as an educator, this book is an important and vital lens on thinking about teaching, learning and the role of assessment.”

    —Chris Lehmann, Founding Principal, Science Leadership Academy

    “This book will convince any reluctant educator to rethink the traditional grading system. If Mark’s vision can become a reality, students will be prepared for a world that doesn’t reward A’s and condemn F’s.”

    —Angela Maiers, Educator, Author, Speaker and Founder of Choose2Matter

    “As an educator working with the district office, I am given many different books to read throughout the school year. Some are rather dry and have too much technical information. This book was an easy, enjoyable read. The cases and “real world” aspect of the way the book was written made me want to try this form of grading in a classroom tomorrow. School districts across the country have turned to standards based instruction, standards based report cards and Assessment 3.0 is the next logical step to grading.”

    —Shelly Miedona, Math Coach

    “Current achievement-driven, testing and grading-focused school cultures offer little insight into teaching and learning—often fostering negative self-esteem and pressure on students. Through logical argument, practical instructional moves, and a clear passion for children and their learning needs, Mark Barnes pushes our thinking and invites us to imagine a different path for education. I look forward to sharing Assessment 3.0 with colleagues. It promises to be a game-changer for schools.”

    —Donalyn Miller, Author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild

    “Barnes is bold, insightful and right! It is time to not only throw out your grade books, but all the misinformation in your brains that supports the need for grades! None of us became teachers so we could have color-coded grade books. We became educators to make a difference in the minds of our students. This book shows us how!”

    —Russell J. Quaglia, President/Founder

    “Quality feedback trumps numbers in nearly every scenario. A number or grade indicates the learning is complete. The use of SE2R allows educators to get to the heart of instruction . . . student learning. It provides a framework for a continuous discussion that is about learning, not an assigned number. Mark Barnes does a fantastic job of providing the research on the divisive nature of our current grading policies and offers an alternative that lends itself to student ownership of learning. I highly recommend this book to educators at all levels and in all content areas.”

    —Joe Sanfelippo, Co-Author of The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story

    “With a crisp, engaging style, Mark Barnes challenges us to re-think the notion of assigning traditional grades. Full of helpful examples and tips for success, Assessment 3.0 offers a feedback model that is differentiated, student-focused, and results-oriented.”

    —William Sterrett, Educational Leadership Faculty Member and Program Coordinator, Author of Insights into Action.

    Mark Barnes is a thoughtful, reflective, practicing educator and a prolific writer. In this book he is able to make a solid case for doing away with grades as we have come to understand them over the centuries. Many educators struggle with grades and their effect on true learning, and Mark underscores the many reasons for this. He puts in place a plan to eliminate grades and empower learning as a result. His 21st century approach to meaningful assessment is a breath of fresh air to educators who are tired of hearing from anyone but educators as to what assessment should be. In this book Mark explains the history of assessment, describes why it is not working, and provides a strategy to change from what we are doing with assessment to what we as educators should be doing in regard to meaningful assessment. This may be the jumpstart needed to get a meaningful and long overdue dialogue started.

    —Tom Whitby, co-author of The Relevant Educator


    Unlike many authors I don’t have a list of teachers who influenced me to become an educator. It wasn’t until I tried various jobs that I realized I wanted to be a teacher, and many years passed before I understood what effective teaching and learning was. I’ll acknowledge some of the professionals who influenced my teaching philosophy throughout this book. There are a few individuals, though, who merit mentioning here.

    In other books I’ve written, I’ve acknowledged my wife, Mollie, at the end in sort of a last-but-not-least statement of honor. For this book, it’s important to acknowledge Mollie first. Because she is the most influential person in my life, I’m not sure I would have ever transformed my classroom and my teaching methods as I did if she hadn’t endorsed the move. When I explained to her one summer how I wanted to discard every traditional technique I’d ever used in favor of a unique combination of progressive teaching methods I’d studied for months, she smiled and said, “I think it’s amazing and courageous that you’re willing to change everything so you can help kids. You should do it.” Without Mollie this book would not exist. She is so much more than my wife and mother to my children. She is my best friend and my most cherished confidant.

    My son Ethan and my daughter Lauren watch me spend countless hours sitting at the computer when they prefer that I spend time with them. They compensate by asking me about my work. “Which book are you working on, daddy? How many words is it? Where is that picture going?” I appreciate their patience and the precious time we steal together, even when I’m racing toward deadlines. They are the primary reason I want to change education.

    While it sounds cliché, there are not enough ways to say thank you to the remarkable educators at Coppell East Middle School. The courage and care they exhibit daily is unparalleled in the profession. A special thanks to Kat, Laura, and Megan. They know why. I appreciate the mighty efforts of Gerald Aungst, Dr. Charlie Gleek, John Romanoff, Mike Fisher, Dr. Stacy Reeves, Joy Kirr, Michelle Baldwin, Garnett Hillman, Shelly Terrell, Hadley Ferguson, Laura Springer, and the many students and parents who have shared their insights.

    I owe so much to the patient, professional people at Corwin Press, especially Ariel Price and Arnis Burvikovs. They showed unwavering faith in this project, and Ariel helped me find my voice, which sometimes gets lost in a maelstrom of ideas. Thank you, Diane DiMura, for your acute attention to detail.

    I appreciate all of the dedicated members of the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group, and the Assessment 3.0 Facebook page. When I needed help with research, they were my first, and most reliable, source. And when it comes to legitimate education reform, they are the most dedicated educators I know.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • D. Allan Bruner, National Board Certified Teacher
    • Chemistry Teacher and Science Chair
    • Colton High School
    • Colton, OR
    • Diane Callahan
    • Retired 7th/8th Grade Science Teacher
    • Fairfield Middle School
    • Fairfield, OH
    • Tamara Daugherty
    • 3rd Grade Teacher
    • Lakeville Elementary
    • Apopka, FL
    • Shelly Miedona
    • District Title I Resource Teacher
    • Indian River Schools
    • Vero Beach, FL

    About the Author

    Mark Barnes is a veteran classroom teacher, education consultant, and author of the critically acclaimed Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (2013), The 5-Minute Teacher (2013), Teaching the iStudent (2014), and 5 Skills for the Global Learner (2015). A longtime adjunct professor at two Ohio colleges, Mark has created five online courses on web-based instruction, mobile learning, and using Twitter in the classroom and as a professional development tool. A leading expert on student-centered learning, Mark has helped thousands of educators build digitally enhanced, project-based, no-grades classrooms. Mark is the creator of the internationally recognized how-to video site for educators Learn It in 5 and publisher of the popular education blog Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge (B or I). Named a Top 10 education technology blog by EdTech Magazine in 2014, B or I inspires hundreds of thousands of loyal readers. Mark’s Facebook group, Teachers Throwing Out Grades, is a growing collection of educators dedicated to changing the way learning is assessed, and this group helped launch the often-trending #TTOG Twitter chat. Mark can be found sharing information and articles about best practices in education daily on Twitter at @markbarnes19.


    In memory of the suffragettes. They taught us that even when something has lasted for centuries, if it’s wrong it must be vanquished.

  • Appendix A : Feedback From the Field

    When I was completing research for this book, I reached out to many educators and other education shareholders from many places, asking for feedback about their experiences with Assessment 3.0. The response was so overwhelming that there was no way for me to integrate everything into the narrative. Teachers, parents, and administrators supplied their own takes on SE2R and a no-grades classroom, and some provided amazing quotes from students, who are part of no-grades classrooms. This is a compilation of comments from these remarkable people—all trying to change the world.

    SE2R allows me to develop and enhance the working relationship I have with each student. Rather than worrying about the grade, students know that they can persistently wrestle with concepts and skills, and that I will provide them with the necessary guidance until they feel comfortable with what we are learning, without the fear that their GPA will suffer. This is not to say that students choose A’s for themselves; far from it, actually. Several students who have earned acceptances to the Ivy League and other top-tier universities have assigned themselves C’s and D’s at various points in the term because they felt they had not yet mastered our coursework. I suspect that this level of self-awareness and honesty, especially amongst teenagers when it comes to grades, may only result because we have chosen to focus on learning in our classroom as opposed to letter and percentage-based grades.

    —Charles Gleek, teacher, Broward Prep Academy

    I feel like the feedback I have received so far has been extremely helpful. The feedback always makes me feel like I’m doing a good job, but also gives me insight as to how I can improve my writing.

    —Sophia, 11th grader, Broward Prep Academy

    One practice I have learned over the years is to not expect perfection on the first try. I’ve been in the teaching field for more than 25 years at this point, and I still have a great deal to learn, so how can I expect undergrads, average ages between 19 and 22, to know how to teach a small group of six-year-olds? How could I expect perfect timing and unity in style of an undergrad student’s interaction with children’s spontaneity in a short lesson, and then for the student to write that up for me to be read with clarity and style? What scoring grade should be placed on that work? I never give letter or number grades to these assignments. Instead, we have a conference together with verbal conversation and suggestions on what was terrific and what could be changed on the next lesson with the undergrad and the children.

    —Dr. Stacy Reeves, professor, University of Southern Mississippi

    I really enjoy seeing the comments on my work. It’s much better than receiving back an essay or homework assignment where there is just a 9/10 on the top and not knowing where I went wrong. I am grateful for all teachers who take the time to leave feedback on all of their students’ work, and I understand that it can often take a long time to do so.

    —Isabella, 11th grader, Broward Prep Academy

    When teachers stop grading, they can really begin to help their students where they need help. Take for example two students in the same English class. One writes an essay with interesting ideas and technical problems, the other a technically perfect essay but with no original ideas. In the traditional grading system, the student with the technically perfect essay will undoubtedly fare better, even though she needs to be encouraged to take risks with her ideas. The other student, who would probably get a low grade, needs to be encouraged to work on her technical skills while maintaining her voice and ideas. Once grades are abolished, both students can work on their own weaknesses without fear of failing.

    —Sara Bennett, coauthor of The Case Against Homework

    I feel that an emphasis on summative assessment, especially with younger students, creates an environment where learning ends, and that is not the environment I want for my students. Students learn and understand skills and concepts at different rates. I do not believe in using assessment in a punitive manner, essentially punishing students for what they do not understand. We use the word yet often in reflecting upon our own learning. At the same time, we are looking to help students own their learning and progress. Progress is essential, and we want our kids to be able to assess themselves in their forward movement.

    —Michelle Baldwin, teacher, Anastasis Academy

    Grading is a math exercise. Ten items. Three with answers that don’t match the answer sheet. Each item worth ten points. 3 × 10 = 30. 100 − 30 = 70. Math problem. The teacher has shown you she can do simple math. Remember, this teacher has shown you she can grade; she hasn’t shown you she can assess.

    —Kylene Beers, author and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English

    I was very pleased with the feedback that I received. While writing my responses, I was overcome with the feeling that I was much less worldly than I had previously thought—that I wasn’t as aware of conflicts around the world as some of my classmates. However, your feedback made me feel encouraged and intelligent. You pointed out what I should be working on, but you managed to do it in a nice way while also praising what I did correctly.

    —Josie, 11th grader, Broward Prep Academy

    My students self-assess using the SE2R method. They identify which parts of the standard they have cogently addressed, as well as areas that can be further developed. At times self-assessment is written, but other times it is done via a conversation with me. These conversations are very one sided with the student taking the lead in explaining their thoughts about their work. Narrative descriptive feedback has changed the culture of my learning environment. Students are engaged in the learning process and not just working for a grade. There is no more point seeking behavior, and learning is the goal for my students. Narrative feedback gives my students direction in their learning. It reinforces areas of strength while providing opportunities for growth and improvement. Grades don’t enhance the learning experience, but feedback does.

    —Garnett Hillman, Spanish teacher, Lockport Township High School

    I think that the feedback that I have received has been very helpful in the fact that it allows me to see what I can really improve upon. My feedback has helped me to understand what I need to refine and hone in on. I think that getting feedback is much more helpful than just getting a grade. Instead of doing an assignment, getting a grade and moving on, I find myself really thinking about ways to fix my work.

    —Jordan, 11th grader, Broward Prep Academy

    The fear of what grade she made was taken away and she could learn without the fear of failure.

    —Susan Hall, parent of a child in a no-grades classroom

    I think that the feedback is a system that will help me a lot in the future. The feedback I receive is very helpful when I’m on target, and even more helpful with helping get back on target if I’m off. The best thing, I think, about feedback is that it gives me the opportunity to correct myself without worrying about a bad grade. It lets me take a shot at the answer, even if I’m not sure I’m right, because I know that the worst that can happen is I improve through critique.

    —Miranda, 11th grader, Broward Prep Academy

    To hear fifth-grade students take control of their learning, to own up to where they should have worked harder, to set up their future path for learning—wow. This is what assessment should be.

    —Pernille Ripp (2014, p. 117)

    When grades are removed (which requires a huge cultural shift, I realize) and the focus is on doing quality work, the students begin to develop habits of deeper learning and thinking, not because they are motivated by a grade but because they are socially accountable for their best work. (Socially accountable in terms of how tasks should be amplified so that work is shared with a global audience for feedback.)

    —Mike Fisher, education author and researcher

    I have been able to tell students what they are doing—what I notice, at the very least. Sometimes they don’t see it themselves. This can be very powerful for students, and I get to know them much better in the process. Letting them know the effect it has on me is another step in the process.

    —Joy Kirr, teacher, Arlington Heights SD25

    Appendix B : SE2R Feedback Quick-Reference Guide

    It took years of honing SE2R feedback, before I believed what I was writing was truly effective. I’m not sure any of it was perfect, because writing objective, descriptive feedback with proper redirection is a complex, constantly changing process. The toughest challenge is helping students fully comprehend feedback and how to use it. The strategy that best helped students was encouraging them to use SE2R on their peers and on themselves. If students use the same SE2R model that teachers use, they become highly critical of their own work, and the quality of their assignments and projects will improve. These SE2R models are designed to serve as guides for teachers and students in all grades. Feel free to print and distribute these models to all education shareholders.

    Appendix C : SE2R Feedback You Can Use Today


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