So this question has been asked by so many teachers in so many ways, and I found myself facing it again last Tuesday as I tallied up participation and class assignments and essays. Few people will argue anymore that evaluating especially writing or, say, a student's response to a novel or poem is anything but subjective. (Surely they don't still exist?)
Montessori, Freire and so many others eshew grades totally. I hear them! What do they really, honestly tell us? It's a snapshot, at best, of whether or not a kid is thinking critically and creatively and growing as a reader, writer and human being. And of course, grades force teachers into such dilemmas as what to do with the kid who has started at "zero" and made considerable progress, but might not still technically be up to what the State has decided upon as a standard?
It's not like positive, practical (yes, practical) alternatives do not exist. In my view, Montessori's model of narrative evaluation is solid. I say solid, I mean revolutionary. That is, the teacher observes the kid and his or her work and composes a paragraph or so on the student's behavior and scholastic work let's say weekly. Each quarter or semester, parents, the student and the teacher could then sit down and discuss. What a rich record of the kids' growth this would be! No hierarchy or abstractions needed. And yes, it IS possible, if we were to rethink our schools. Why have we not cut class sizes in half yet? That's a start. Yes, it will mean more teachers and more schools themselves, but that's a mere matter of funding our schools like we think they mean as much as we say we do.