What about grades?

We hope this clears up some assumptions about grades….









Above is James Bach‘s highschool transcript. (Read more in his book Buccaneer-Scholar.)

Here’s how his book reads on the pages describing his grades (This is a lot  – James gave me permission to pirate this .):

As you can see, I dropped out of high school. My transcript may look a bit strange. I liked math. My mother talked the school into letting me take geometry and trigonometry in ninth grade. I didn’t receive grades for these classes, thought, because instead of taking the final exams, I went to the University of Vermont to take a summer calculus course.

My ninth-grade math teacher was furious that I missed his exams. I couldn’t take him seriously. The point is learning, right? Not grades. By that time I had contempt for grades. To me, the public school grading system seemed fraudulent and ignorant. I felt this way because I often received good grades I knew I hadn’t earned, while some of my worst grades were for subjects in which I excelled.

See that 94 in nith-grade science? I barely attended that class. Most days, I skipped it and played in the computer lab instead. I went to science class each Friday to take the test, which was a weak mix of vocabulary words and multiple-choice questions about basic facts of nature. Even thought I turned in no homework, passing such tests was apparently enough to get a good grade.

See that 49 in tenth-grade physics? Looks like a low score, doesn’t it? But I loved physics. I studied it at home. I made drawings of spaceships and calculated how fast they could go and how long it would take them to reach Alpha Centauri. I taught myself to use a sliderule and calculated trajectories of rockets that put space stations into orbit, the centrifugal forces on those space stations and the energy of meteoroids that might strike them in orbit.

But none of that was part of my schoolwork. So it didn’t count. Instead, physics in my school was a process designed to minimize the probability that any student would fail physics class. This was accomplished by emptying physics of much of its content. The subject was changed from an exploration of the patterns of the universe into a ritual of simple observations and simple calculations.

The problem was the labs. We were supposed to do them each week. A “lab” was a set of instructions in a book and blanks to fill in. These were turned in to the teacher, so that he could check that the blanks were filled with the expected numbers. Example: “The ball rolled 1 meter in ___ seconds when released on the 10 degree plane.”

These labs were represented to us as “experiments,” but there was no inquiry in them. They were just rituals for getting a grade. In practice, a few students performed the ritual to obtain the magic numbers; the rest copied the numbers into their own workbooks.

For me, the labs turned physics into a sham. I was told I would not pass the class unless I turned in my completed workbook. Instead, I turned in nothing. My workbook remained empty the whole year, I failed physics, but to this day I feel good that I took a stand for ethics in education.

At the end of tenth grade, a year after I skipped the math exams, my geometry and trigonometry teacher suddenly reappeared. The man was still angry with me for missing his pointless tests. He forced me to go into a room where the same exams were being held and said I had to take them. I didn’t care about the grade, but math is fun, so I went along. That’s why my Math 10 and Math 11 scores show up in tenth grade instead of ninth.

So you see. There are a lot of numbers on my high school transcript. The numbers look plain and clear, but the story behind them is nothing of the kind. Schools can’t track or describe students like me in meaningful terms. High numbers don’t represent good learning; low numbers don’t represent bad. The result is a nonsensical record from which little of value can be inferred.

We can’t know from looking at any report card or transcript how well or poorly a student is doing at school. These records don’t even tell us how well a student “plays the game” of school because a teacher may decide to pass an otherwise failing student for the sake of mercy, decorum, or administrative pressure. The system is a mess.

I have no “General Equivalency Diploma.” I have no other college credit. I have no certifications other than a driver’s license, a student’s pilot’s license, and open water driver rating, and a Level I paraglider pilot license.

If you measure people by paper credentials, you would be comfortable ignoring me. By that measure, I’m the Invisible Man.



.for more – check out Joe Bower ‘s insight on grades…

and how we think we should be helping people to not suffocate, to determine authentic value… and… oh my math... and perhaps, the only credentialing that matters.

and – a post on Buccaneer-Scholar.

measurable outcomes least


the prize ness


Tony Wagner (@DrTonyWagner) tweeted at 5:38 AM – 6 Jan 2018 :

Mastery Transcript Consortium leads the way in the move to a competency-based high school assessment system. In a breakthrough, Harvard says alternative transcripts aren’t a problem for kids’ admission chances. Beginning of a revolution. @MastTranscript (

more like chasing a revolution.. lagging behind.. stalling.. a revolution

The purpose of education is not to sort kids—it’s to grow kids. Teachers need to coach and mentor, but with grades, teachers turn into judges.

to grow kids..?
i thought it was a space for leisure
but yeah.. the judging has got to stop..
not just to new kinds of transcripts..