A Conversation on Grading

The theme of this week is assessment. This is a topic that brings out many diverse viewpoints, but it does seem that the majority of people agree that what we are doing right now is far from ideal. With traditional methods of assessing student performance, teachers promote the competitive culture of the modern education system and actually demotivate students. I can personally say that I am one of those students who was never really motivated by grades, much to the dismay of my mother. I would often get poor grades in classes, even though I would have high test scores. I never really understood why people were so motivated by grades. I enjoyed learning and often would loose points on assignments that I had done, but just never turned in for a grade. I thought I was a misfit in a group of students who all shared some unspoken understanding/level of content with the way that we were evaluated. It wasn’t until college that I really started to appreciate that I was part of the vast majority of students who really don’t perform well within the methods that are traditionally used to motivate students. In reading the article by Alfie Kohn I thought the quote about grades and testing was rather accurate,

Collecting information doesn’t require tests, and sharing that information doesn’t require grades.  In fact, students would be a lot better off without either of these relics from a less enlightened age.

Alfie Kohn, “The Case Against Grades”

Furthermore, even if these traditional assessment methods didn’t impede learning, they are also very poor indicators of the skills and competencies that students need in the modern workforce. Right now our education system produces students who are really good at memorizing content and regurgitating it in a a well defined setting. In a modern work setting, people need to be able to think critically and solve problems in settings that are often very loosely defined.

The perspective that Alfie Kohn brings to the table in the article, “The Case Against Grades” is very insightful. I really appreciated the fact that he tackled the issue from a practical perspective, focusing on tools and techniques that educators can use to actively begin to transform their classrooms. Change can often seem difficult and jumping into a new teaching and assessment style can seem like a really big undertaking, but I felt that Kohn did a very good job of providing guidance and examples so that teachers can approach the change confidently, without feeling too overwhelmed. I was amazed at finding out how long research has shown that traditional assessment does not produce desirable results. It is time that we begin to shift away from these outdated and ineffective techniques.

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7 Responses to A Conversation on Grading

  1. laurenrk says:

    I agree that there is something amiss with our emphasis and pressure on making good enough grades. I also agree that critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and other cognitive buzz words are certainly gaining consensus as the more important traits, rather than memorization and regurgitation, in most contexts, and I think these can be assessed through alternative evaluation methods. But, to play devil’s advocate, I do think there is a time and place for instilling and evaluating fundamental facts, at least to create a strong enough foundation on which to build critical thinking etc. skills.

  2. Shiqiang says:

    I enjoy reading your post! Coming from China, my life before 18 is full of tests and exams. In my senior year at high school, I had 4 exams every three days, and a rank would be given based on these 4 exams and revealed to whole class (every three days!). You can imagine how much I hate quantitative assessment at that time. Too many assessments definitely inhibit imagination and passion for learning, and critical thinking skills are not fully developed via tests. But right now, as I look back ten years later, I can actually understand the assessment-centered education system. We had 3000 students in the same grade with me (class of 2007, just in our school) and 0.5 million students in our province. Only 5-6% of students will go to a decent university every year. So how can you select this 5% student without a fair assessment? Without these assessments (tests and exams), I may still live in a rural place out of no where in China. I feel so grateful that I survived so many tests and definitely will not let my child go through these in the future.

  3. Ethan says:

    Its refreshing to read that you didnt lose the drive for learning for the sake of the learning experience despite the grading systems. I think there are few people these days, though many may have found their way into grad school, who became disenchanted with the educational system due to the grading schemes.

  4. Carlos F Mantilla P says:

    Hi Abram, “I never really understood why people were so motivated by grades”, not sure if you left this as affirmation or if there is space for it being a question as well, I am going with the later… I don’t think the word is motivated but rather driven, and this in the negative sense of just being “drive by” instead of you “driving”… as Lauren pointed out in her post (https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/lauken/gedi2017/the-difficulty-with-narratives-rather-than-grades/) the reality is that the system in a lot of situations demands for good grades, including admission to graduate schoo, hence the students being driven by the system to get good grades. But I also think that it depends on the system and the culture… sometimes those students with super high grades can be considered as “not social”, “nerds”, “robots” and just not good material to a company. In these cases, interviews are likely the place were those that only focused on grades might fail. Went out of topic a little… at the end we need a hybrid system that still envolves some sort of grading but not focused on just grades.

  5. Amy Hermundstad says:

    I really enjoyed your post. After reflecting on your own experiences and reading the articles from this week, what are some ways that you could incorporate these ideas into a class that you teach?

  6. D. Gupta says:

    Coming from India, I can tell you that students themselves do not have to be motivated for grades. Indian parents will point out others who get better grades in an effort to motivate you to work harder. This is one of the worst things to happen to children. Parents and in some cases even teachers make comparisons from an early age. Students grow up not wanting to learn anything but to get better grades than others. Just to make the comparisons stop. A result of this experience is that Asian students (although I speak primarily for Indian students) are plagued by self doubt and are prone to be jealous of others’ success.

    Here is a couple of Quora posts on the same:
    1) https://www.quora.com/Why-do-Indian-parents-always-want-to-compare-their-child-with-others-even-though-they-know-that-every-child-is-unique
    2) https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-deal-with-Indian-parents-and-comparing-their-kids-with-others

  7. Wejdan says:

    I agree with your point here, Grading if you think about is built on categories that measures certain criteria that sometime don’t give the students the opportunities to be creative, learn skills they need to learn, or don’t give the proper assessment to the categories being measured.

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