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Off the Mark

How Grades, Ratings, and Rankings Undermine Learning (but Don’t Have To)

Jack Schneider, Ethan L. Hutt

ISBN 9780674248410

Publication date: 08/08/2023

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Amid widespread concern that our approach to testing and grading undermines education, two experts explain how schools can use assessment to support, rather than compromise, learning.

Anyone who has ever crammed for a test, capitulated to a grade-grubbing student, or fretted over a child’s report card knows that the way we assess student learning in American schools is freighted with unintended consequences. But that’s not all. As experts agree, our primary assessment technologies—grading, rating, and ranking—don’t actually provide an accurate picture of how students are doing in school. Worse, they distort student and educator behavior in ways that undermine learning and exacerbate inequality. Yet despite widespread dissatisfaction, grades, test scores, and transcripts remain the currency of the realm.

In Off the Mark, Jack Schneider and Ethan Hutt explain how we got into this predicament, why we remain beholden to our outmoded forms of assessment, and what we can do to change course. As they make clear, most current attempts at reform won’t solve the complex problems we face. Instead, Schneider and Hutt offer a range of practical reforms, like embracing multiple measures of performance and making the so-called permanent record “overwritable.” As they explain, we can remake our approach in ways that better advance the three different purposes that assessment currently serves: motivating students to learn, communicating meaningful information about what young people know and can do, and synchronizing an otherwise fragmented educational system. Written in an accessible style for a broad audience, Off the Mark is a guide for everyone who wants to ensure that assessment serves the fundamental goal of education—helping students learn.


  • A probing history and analysis of our most pervasive but largely unchallenged assessment technologies: grades, tests, and transcripts…everyone would do well to read this book’s honest and layered picture of what we’re up against.

    —Jeremy T. Murphy, Teachers College Record


  • Jack Schneider is Dwight W. Allen Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he leads the Beyond Test Scores Project. The author most recently of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (with Jennifer Berkshire), he writes regularly for outlets like The Atlantic and The Nation and cohosts the education policy podcast Have You Heard.
  • Ethan L. Hutt is Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and coeditor of Absent from School: Understanding and Addressing Student Absenteeism. His writings on education have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Book Details

  • 296 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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