Face the Sorting Hat Bravely

I still remember in the first Harry Potter movie, the appearance of the Sorting Hat really amazes me. During the opening banquet at the beginning of each school year (or academic year in our case), all freshmen will wait to be seated on a stool. An enchanted and sentient hat, known as the Sorting Hat, will then be placed on their head. The Sorting Hat takes some moments to evaluate each student through “mind-reading”. Based on their personality, capability, and potential, every student will be sorted into one of the four Hogwarts Houses (i.e. the best fit House).

Where would the Sorting Hat place you?

The Sorting Hat provides rapid assessment for young talents and place them in the House that can be most beneficial for their later development. This talking hat plays such an important role in this fantasy world, and I always believe that the implement of Sorting Hat leads to the success and prosperous of Hogwarts. Back to our real world, we “mundanes” are facing all kinds of assessments in this society as well, qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative assessments are everywhere, from an informal “you did quite well in this project/presentation” to a formal written feedback/comment. This type of assessment can be subjective. A teacher may give two different qualitative assessments towards the same homework on two difference times, letting alone several different teachers. Qualitative evaluation is complicated and quite time-consuming since thorough understanding of the content is required. Quantitative assessments, on the other hand, are more standardized and hence much easier to operate. An unanimous grading standard is normally formed to quantify student’s performance and ability. Quantitative assessments end up with a score, level, or a percentage that is clearly to interpret. Since the performance is quantified and even ranked, some students find the quantitative assessment, such as test, quiz, and exam, quite scary, posing adverse effect on their performance due to mental stress. So more and more people start to rethink our current assessment system, and quantitative assessments are more preferred.

(click on the figure to be directed to the original source)

But can we really abandon letters or numbers in assessment? I would say “yes” if we are in Hogwarts with the help of the magical Sorting Hat. To me, I agree with Alfie Kohn that quantitative assessment is not “a particularly useful way to assess student learning”.1 However, the tests and exams do evaluate students’ performance on specific questions or scenarios, and most of these questions are originated from real world under simplification or reasonable assumption. A higher score tends to indicate enhanced capability and potential in solving these issues. If we need one person out of one hundred for a decision-making position, can we really select this person based on qualitative assessment? Qualitative assessment can narrow down the candidate to at least 5 people, all receiving high recommendation from the committee. By the end of the day, we still need to count on “numbers” to choose the best fit. Another example is that consulting company use decision matrix to find the best alternative and propose it to the client. Quantitative assessment happens everyday in our real world.

I know not every assessment can be accurate. Even for the Sorting Hat, it makes few mistakes once a while in categorizing students. However, that is not the excuse for us to abandon the assessment system, both qualitative and quantitative ones. Combination of various assessments can be more effective, and more constructive advice can be rendered for further improvement. Students need to know that our society builds on assessment. We need to face the “Sorting Hat” bravely and embrace it with positive attitude.



  1. The Case Against Grades. Alfie Kohn, 2011.

3 Comments on “Face the Sorting Hat Bravely

  1. When I saw the title of your post I couldn’t help but click! Since we’re talking about the sorting hat, I’d like to point out that the sorting hat, like you said, makes mistakes, and it also determines a kid’s potential too early (when he/she is only 10 years old!). At such a young age, the kid is already sorted, sending the message that development should take place in a particular way, inadvertently hindering development in other aspects. So how does this relate to grades? Well, I wonder if getting bad grades early on demotivates a child, especially if that’s the only kind of “assessment” received. Grades could give out the message that he/she is not cut out for school, that the intelligence isn’t there, even though grades only really reflect what’s being tested. It could be especially damaging if the teacher doesn’t like the kid, and assesses with bias (I noticed this happening in some elementary and high school classrooms). I agree with you that using a combination of various assessments is probably more fair and representative. But I think, like the TED video mentioned, we need to hold teachers to higher professional standards, pay them adequately, because they have an important job and should invest more time evaluating student development.

  2. I wish we had a sorting hat….right?! You bring a balanced view to assessment for sure. However, I’m not sure about this statement “By the end of the day, we still need to count on “numbers” to choose the best fit.”….Do we really?! How would you imagine maybe choosing the best fit without having to rely on numbers?!

  3. I agree that numbers can still play a role. Numbers do not necessarily indicate meaninglessness. Assessment fails because it does not collect the right information so that it does not make sense to the students or to the teacher.

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