Let’s reassess how we assess

Ah, assessment. While complaining about my two-semester assessment course all of last year, I actually appreciate it today. I don’t quite grasp assessment enough to make a career out of it, but I know now that a career in higher education requires an understanding of assessment. And I don’t just mean knowing different research methods or spitting out definitions of external and internal validity. I mean understanding that assessment can be flawed, biased, and not necessarily helpful to student learning.

Assessment also comes in many forms. It’s grades, GPA, student demographic data, student engagement, student satisfaction, student involvement, etc. While it’s critical to assess all of these things and more, it’s important for educators to fully comprehend such assessments. To me, the biggest concern with any form of assessment is that a student is producing some outcome, whether it’s a paper to be graded or a answering questions for a qualitative interview, and that outcome can’t ever fully explain student learning. I get that it’s near impossible to perfect measuring something like learning, but I know we can do better.

I’ve loved readings and videos this week about motivation, because so much of learning comes down to motivation. A student may get a perfect score on a test, but if they weren’t genuinely motivated to learn the subject, it’s likely that they’ll forget all the information as soon as the test is turned in. When we’re “learning” to pass a test, it all comes down to memorization. Sure, grades are a motivating factor for many students, myself included. I work hard for the grade, but I work harder because I truly love learning and I want to benefit from it.

I’ll end with a personal assessment/motivation story: Sophomore year of college, I decided to minor in Economics. I hate math and I’m not good at it. But the conversations I had about economics in other classes intrigued me, and I wanted to pursue it. So I took my first class with a professor who I’d heard was extremely difficult but a great teacher. After struggling the whole semester, and ending with a B, I was confident I could keep going with economics. I suffered through the math components of my other econ classes, but still enjoyed learning the subject. My final semester of econ was coming up and I wanted to take one more class with that challenging professor. People tried really hard to talk me out of it, telling me most people fail or end up dropping. Well, I got a C in the class, barely. But the way that professor taught was more about facing a challenge as best you can than it was about acing the class. He graded tests fairly, and even gave credit to explanations of formulas when you couldn’t remember it. He showed me that learning (and grading) shouldn’t reward regurgitating information, but rather an appreciation of effort and thought. It killed my GPA, but it solidified my love of learning. Thanks Dr. Moul!


5 Replies to “Let’s reassess how we assess”

  1. The brain dump. Lean it for the test, and dump it to make room for the information that will allow you to pass the next text. I have definitely used this strategy in more classes than I haven’t.
    Like you, grades do motivate me, and I work hard for them. But the classes that I’ve learned the most from I’ve gotten the lowest grades. I think it’s mostly due to the quality and expectations of the teacher. A great teacher can make you care a little more, whether it’s a subject you’re really interested in or not., and higher expectations can add a challenge that’s not present in other classes.

  2. I can relate to this. I am more proud of the 4 B’s I have received in my life than any of the many A’s. I am really proud of these B’s (3 in chemistry and one in desktop publishing because of typos and spelling errors) because it was a class I had to work hard in and because I was challenged I learned. I also learned that I was capable of learning new and complicated things. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could have attached a note to my transcript explaining what these classes meant to me.

    “Do you see this B for Desktop Publishing? I got this B because I learned that it’s not enough to design beautiful flyers and newsletters but that I have to be obsessive about making sure I catch all the typos and get all the information correct.” or “These two B’s in freshman chemistry should impress you because I took a higher level class than I was required and I developed habits of scientific rigor that benefited me in all of my following science classes, but those later successes started here.”

    If we asked our students what their grades said about them, their personal, professional and academic growth, what would they say?

  3. I really appreciated your story about your Econ class with Dr. Moul and ways that he encouraged students to think as opposed to memorize and regurgitate information. I would be curious to know how he fostered that throughout the course (or did students typically figure that out after the first test?). And I love Bethany’s question at the end of her comment. I think it would be pretty cool to incorporate this type of reflection into our classes.

  4. Haha. I have a similar story. I majored in Economics in my undergrads. That was when I had to throw away all of my photographic memory skills (that I had picked up in school) out of the window. Classes were hard. Exams were harder. Grades were very poor (to be honest the entire class fared poorly). But the satisfaction at the end of the semester was hard to beat. I’d rather get C’s and learn something rather than get an A and learn nothing.

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