Pain in the Ass-essment

Assessment to me has a different meaning probably than to most of the people in the class.  In counseling, assessment can take much of a different interpretation.  Counselors tend to assess for mental health concerns such as diagnosis, suicidal thoughts, etc.  Thinking of grades equaling assessment takes some reframing, but it makes sense because we have to assess performance somehow!


Dr. Nelson was talking in class about how grades are varying, originally designed for objects and later people.  I’ve been amazed to see how different the same class can be from one semester to another, one professor to another, and especially one university to another.  One class that comes to mind is a class about Counseling Theories that I have taken several times in various forms and actually co-taught last semester.  I’ve found the lack of consistency to be somewhat frustrating in the past because I thought that there are certain standards in place that keep classes consistent from one place to another.  However, I’m starting to question that after looking at some of these readings and videos this week.  Maybe it is better that each class is a bit different.  Learning shouldn’t be about forming everyone around one way of taking in information but instead tailoring learning to each individual.  The grades may turn out different from one class to another based on students’ various strengths, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing.  The variability from one class to another that I was thinking was a limitation, I am now seeing as a strength.


I’ve always thought of this from the framework that standards are to keep professors from missing what is important to be taught in the Counseling Theories class.  But now I have changed my thinking that having too strict of standards and/or assessments for this class would take away from the intrinsic motivation that each of the professors was able to instill in the students.  After seeing the videos from Dan Pink, I recognize that a class like this is a mental challenge, not just a mechanical task in which students just follow the rules.  The “rules” of counseling are not straightforward because interacting with people is never the same from one instance to another.  So for that matter, why should counseling classes be the exact same from one school to another?  Counseling requires cognitive skills that Dan Pink refers to actually makes rewards work backwards.  People perform worse when an increased reward is offered (i.e. a grade).  For that matter, making grades the reward (in theory) should actually reduce performance.  So what I’ve noticed about the professors from these classes, was that grades were just sort of a byproduct of doing the work for class.  It wasn’t about how well students performed on tests but that they engaged with each other and the learning process.  As the Dan Pink video specifies, what is important for motivating people for these types of tasks are: Autonomy, Mastery, and purpose.  Learning to be a counselor requires a lot of autonomy, striving for mastery in the field, and a sense of purpose seems to practically always bring people to work in the mental health field.  You know we don’t do it for the money!  So a lack of consistency from class to class was something that frustrated me in the past, but to quote a few other people’s blogs, “Aha!”  I have found a whole new appreciation for the variety because just like in counseling, the work has to be tailored to the clients (or students in this instance).  Creating an environment where learning comes first (by allowing greater reliance on autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and grades come as an afterthought allows students to develop into counseling professionals.


I think back to my undergrad experience, and the main motivator was grades.  By the time I graduated, I had the system pegged!  I did the work, earned the grade, and moved onto the next class.  Granted there was a sense of purpose that I wanted to work in the mental health field, but “purpose” is not what looks good on a college transcript.  But that system I had in undergrad didn’t really work once I hit graduate school.  Doing the work was just part of the experience I came for, and memorizing facts to regurgitate on a test no longer worked.  I’m not sure how other fields of graduate study work, but my experience of graduate education was that I was motivated primarily by autonomy, mastery, and purpose to learn from my professors and peers in order to make a difference in the counseling field.  Grades slipped gently into the background and came more as a byproduct of learning than as the motivator for pursuing education.  I hope to use my experience to be one of those professors that brings out that intrinsic motivation in students, as many have done for me so far.


So that is my Aha moment for the week! 😉

5 thoughts on “Pain in the Ass-essment”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story! I had sort of the same experience as far as having the system down for undergraduate studies but coming to grad school was a whole different ball game a different kind of learning often discussion based and as you stated autonomy, mastery and purpose. I appreciate this learning process and as you mentioned I hope to have an influential impact of my students’ learning process as some of the instructors have had on me.

  2. Grading is nominal even if the system uses an ordinal scale. We have Pass/Fail with different levels of pass: A, B, C. When you assess that a person has suicidal thoughts do you grade the severity with words such as “strong suicidal thoughts” or “some suicidal thoughts,” etc?

    1. That’s a great question! Often times a suicide assessment is just asking a client about their thoughts, if they have any intentions to complete suicide, or if they have the means to do so. However, there are a number of standardized assessments for depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. Those usually have number ratings to them with categories of mild, moderate, or severe. So in a way it is a grading system but with lives at stake.

  3. The grading system, like most scales, is merely meant to be a tool to assess where an individual is “at” on a particular spectrum. Similar to the pain scales in hospitals or the ones used to gauge suicidal tendencies, grading can be useful in determining how well a student is learning. Unlike a hammer, these tools [scales] are meant to assess rather than fix. Every tool is only as good as the quality of materials it is comprised of. If a tool is poorly constructed, how can we expect it to do it’s job properly? If the grading scale is a tool, then homework, quizzes, and tests are the components it’s comprised of. Instead of hating the tool [grading], maybe educators should reassess the components that it’s based on?

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