When We Stop Rating People

I have often found something odd about the frequency of hearing teachers especially talk against performance management systems that lead to rating of their work. The arguments may vary somewhat, but usually consist of claims that ratings de-humanise them, that they attempt to objectify their work which is inherently subjective and that it goes against the wishes expressed by management to have people work collaboratively and as teams.

When educators spend so much of their time, traditionally, putting marks and/ or grades on students’ work – both the outcomes and the effort, I find the first tow arguments at times a bit hypocritical. However, I do see a fair amount of justification in the third argument. On the first two, I’m not necessarily saying i disagree with the teachers, but that if they want people to stop putting numbers/ grades and ratings on them I’d love to see the same enthusiasm for finding alternative ways to provide feedback on students’ work! What’s good for the teachers is also good for the students!

When i was in Delhi, we experimented with one term in the year when parents of pupils up to class 8 would receive a ‘Comments only’ report for their child, instead of the traditional ones where parents inevitably focus upon the grades and marks (and particularly those they want to see higher!). One father summed up the feedback of many parents when he told me that this report completely changed the nature of the dialogue he had with his child. He had initially been sceptical. However, what he found was that he and his daughter had a far more open discussion around the teacher feedback, uncluttered by the grades and marks. They talked about strengths as well as areas for development and much more about what help, if any, the child might need to make the targeted improvements.

I was reminded of that when I read this recent article from Harvard business Review about large companies in the US who are shifting away from forced ranking, grades etc. to measure performance of people in the workplace;

Harvard Business Review – Ditching Performance Ratings

The reality is whether we’re talking of students, teachers or employees in any kind of organisation any attempt to distil the essence of who they are and the contribution they make to numbers, grades or other quantifiables will feel like a blunt weapon and a poor way to motivate, inspire or guide to higher levels of achievement and performance. We can, even must, strive to more positive means of motivating and aiding people of all ages to fulfil their potential and to manifest their best self.


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