I was caught by the title of the title of one this week’s reading “We assess what we value”. It really is a striking and concise title, but unfortunately, I don’t think that it’s entirely accurate.
For many of us starting out, and perhaps for many seasoned educators as well, we grade on what we are told is important or what standards exist for our fields. For early educators, we are even given courses with established syllabi, and in some cases, canned assignments and their grading schemes, with little to no room for improvisation or customization.
they wont even let me customize my grade book! #Bedazzled4Life
One such course for me was one that was designed by an instructor, fired for having low teaching evaluations, which was then resurrected by a new more research-oriented faculty member at the behest of the department as a time saving “this material already exists, use that” gesture. It was passed on to another course director, who was retiring, before ultimately being passed on to a set of graduate instructors.
Zombie lesson plans, leading students to follow suit
I was the first person to ask any questions as to why we did things the way we did and surprisingly, ran into little resistance. Most course directors had little attachment to the material unless it was their own, and were surprised that I wanted to increase my workload and delve deeper into assessing the students’ aptitudes of their learning. Some welcomed my input, and others didn’t like my meddling, but allowed me to continue customizing my courses given that I still tested on the same criteria, making anything I did, an extra add on for me.
my mantra, apparently
Some of my compatriots as well as the junior faculty that I spoke with however, have “discretionary” grades they can give out based on authenticity of knowledge not covered by the strict rubric based grading system. This 10-15 points per semester is supposed to guarantee that those who aren’t ‘book smart’ or ‘good at taking tests’ but demonstrate aptitude and understanding of the material can still get a good grade. However, in the large classes, the onus is on the student to develop rapport with the teach in office hours or interact with the teacher in class enough to show that understanding, making the system flawed as face time can be limited and some students prefer not to engage.
Good morning class, this semester, I’d like to get to know all 3500 of you on a one-on-one basis
But back to my original question, do we really assess what we value? OR at least at the higher-ed level, are we merely doing the bare minimum for assessment? Because anecdotally, I’ve seen many professors, even the ones who appeared to care, still following the more traditional assessment methods, where “body of knowledge” and “how” learning are emphasized. This tends to leave students asking, “How can I get the maximum grade, and what set of facts can I know that will get me there?”.