“Grades tell students the absolute minimum about their abilities; they tell them only whether they have earned enough points under a teacher’s rubric to get a good mark”

Human beings are exceptionally poor at judging the quality of a thing on its own. It’s much easier for us to compare two things and weigh up the similarities and differences.

There’s evidence that once a competitive culture emerges in a group, it’s difficult to undo — people fall into a pattern of “cutthroat cooperation.

All assessments provide us with a proxy, the point is whether or not it’s a good proxy.

In the growing debate on how to improve assessments, the articles present the arguments from three contrasting point of views. Food for thought!

In  Why do schools use grades that teach nothing? – The Hechinger Report, Jonathan Lash argues that a more personalized formative feedback is needed to help students identify areas of improvement to work onhechingerreport.org

The Hechinger Report

After almost five decades of our professors’ assessing students using written evaluations, we’ve seen and documented their benefits as an alternative to grades. Grades tell students the absolute minimum about their abilities; they tell them only whether they have earned enough points under a teacher’s rubric to get a good mark.
Too many students use grades to figure out how to do only what’s required, asking their teachers questions like “What do I have to do to get an A?” At the same time, they’re trying to determine the minimum they can “know” to pass. “How can I game the system?” “What are the fluff courses that will get me an easy A?”

At Hampshire, instead of grades, our professors weigh performance against course goals using criteria such as a student’s demonstration of analytic thinking and writing skills, research abilities, Use of primary and secondary literature/substantiation of claims, ability to use data, integration of theory and practice, framing, disciplinary knowledge and skills and positionality.

In Go Compare! | David Didau: The Learning Spy, the argument revolves around our inability to make accurate judgements consistently, in the absence of something to relate to.

learningspy.co.uk

In an ideal world maybe teachers would put the same effort into reading students’ work as they put into creating it. Sadly, this thinking has led to the steady rise in teachers’ workload and mounting feelings of guilt and anxiety. No teacher, no matter how good they are, will ever be able to sustain this kind of marking for long. But maybe we’ve been asking the wrong question. Maybe instead we should ask, If students have put all this effort into their work, is it fair that we assess it unfairly and unreliably?

Human beings are exceptionally poor at judging the quality of a thing on its own. We generally know whether we like something but we struggle to accurately evaluate just how good or bad a thing is. It’s much easier for us to compare two things and weigh up the similarities and differences. This means we are often unaware of what a ‘correct’ judgement might be and are easily influenced by extraneous suggestions. This is compounded by the fact that we aren’t usually even aware we’ve been influenced.

The psychologist Donald Laming says, “There is no absolute judgement. All judgements are comparisons of one thing with another… comparisons are little better than ordinal”. What this means is that we can reliably put things into a rank order, but that’s about it. Mark schemes give the appearance of objectivity but in actual fact when teachers mark a set of essays they often find that half way through they come across an essay that is much better or worse than all the ones they’d marked to that point. This results in going back to change the marks to allow for the new essay to be ranked according to its merits.

A solution is to do away with mark schemes and use instead a system of Comparative Judgement. Judging is different to marking in that it taps into our fast, intuitive modes of thinking – what Daniel Kahneman has called System 1.

In the New York Times article, Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve, grading relatively using the widely adopted normal curve leads to negative behavior among students. A system that was deviced to avoid grade inflation might lead to de-motivated and un,cooperative students and proposes a better way to grade.

nytimes.com

The goal is to fight grade inflation, but the forced curve suffers from two serious flaws.

ONE: It arbitrarily limits the number of students who can excel. If your forced curve allows for only seven A’s, but 10 students have mastered the material, three of them will be unfairly punished.

TWO: The more important argument against grade curves is that they create an atmosphere that’s toxic by pitting students against one another. At best, it creates a hypercompetitive culture, and at worst, it sends students the message that the world is a zero-sum game: Your success means my failure.

Like most people in business schools, my students were intent on networking, but they focused their efforts outside their classes and regarded their in-class peers as competition. I decided to change that culture seven years ago, knowing it would be difficult. There’s evidence that once a competitive culture emerges in a group, it’s difficult to undo – people fall into a pattern of “cutthroat cooperation.

 

So what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

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