Is This On The Test?

Grades have become a nagging pest and a pesky thorn in my side. They seek to measure learning, as if that was a quantifiable entity to begin with. Most professors can tell you that they have A-students who clearly understand the material better than some of their other A-students. They may even have C-students who understand it better than some of their A-students. This would be concerning if we actually cared about their retention or critical evaluation of said material. These kids/adults want to excel; who can fault them for that? They want to prove their worth, outperform and/or outwork their peers, and demonstrate that they are smart enough to hang with the rest of their peers. Their effort doesn’t concern me (always, at least). Their ability doesn’t worry me. Their focus does.

I teach several students who beg for the buzz words and nuggets of “truth” that they expect to find on the quiz. I found that writing them down on the board often, repeating it multiple times, and hinting at its exam inclusion does nothing for their understanding. They know how to latch on to the key words when they pop up, but have zero idea how to use it. They want to get the question right; I don’t blame them. I do not want to grade them, but I must. We are both in a dynamic that neither of us want to be in. I would much rather reward those A and C-students who can really engage with the class. I can to some extent via small compliments and reassurance, but not in anyway substantial. I have leaned towards including assignments that evaluate their ability to engage with what they learn, not just repeat it. This helps, but is generally met with uproar from those who have gotten used to the “standard” way of doing things. That is enough of my anecdotal experience…

The point is that grades are a long outdated sorting tool. They tell us who places where and not who knows what/how/why. I find it pretty disturbing to see occupations that have more constructive feedback in their performance reviews than our classrooms have in their course assessments. A letter or number by itself is arbitrary – even if we could pattern the quality of learning to these metrics, one cannot successfully interpret them. What have I or anyone learned from looking at an “A” or score? Maybe just that we were good enough to pass with a little bit of room for comfort. Hooray; we survived another course. Once that journey is finished, it does not surprise me when the information hasn’t found its way outside of the classroom walls.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Is This On The Test?”

  1. I do think that sometimes having an “A” does give you confidence that you actually understand the material. The problem isn’t with the “A’s,” it’s with anything below. A “C” or “D” student is more likely to give up or just go through the motions because they are already discouraged with the fact that they don’t understand the material. It is hard to get your grade up once you fall behind the A-group, so why bother trying to learn the material at that point? The positive reinforcement of a good grade encourages further understanding, but how do we positively reinforce those who do not catch on so easily? This is the downfall of a grading system.

    Like

    1. I think this goes back to knowing your students and their learning styles. In my time in k-12 education, I have seen students who know the content, but may not be able to verbally explain it. But if you asked them to actually work it out (hands on learning) they were able to complete the task successfully.

      Like

  2. I totally agree with this statement.: “I do not want to grade them, but I must. We are both in a dynamic that neither of us wants to be in”. The problem with grading is not a problem with a method, it’s a problem with a culture, the one that the students and instructors are trapped in.
    One example of an educational system that has overcome this culture is Sudbury school.
    You might find their idea very interesting. Here is a very short video to give everybody a taste of what it looks like:

    Like

    1. Great video!!! This is how our students come into the classroom feeling. They come from all walks of life with different values, but we expect them to conform instantly to rules and regulations set by people who don’t know their story.

      Like

    2. At least the sentiment of “I don’t want to grade them, but I must” isn’t the alternative: “I was graded harshly, so I must grade them harshly.” I’ve seen that in competitive departments (from afar). I think if a department is not-as-competitive as a bigger brand-name school department, then there’s sometimes the added pressure of competing. Grades and grade point averages are a way of doing this (among other ways). It’s tricky for younger departments to be as competitive in an alternative way that doesn’t partake in universal standards.

      Like

  3. I agree ~ the problem is not with the confidence of the “A” students. It is with (1) the lack of confidence exhibited in many of the below-A students and (2) the overconfidence of some of the “A” students exhibit in thinking that because they got a good grade, that means they really understand the material. That is not to say, however, that some of the A students do not actually understand the material and won’t be able to apply it outside of the classroom, or that below A students don’t understand the material despite their lower grades. I guess that is the point — how well do grades actually represent our knowledge?

    Like

    1. I agree! I’ve seen this many times in education. You will have a student who has book knowledge, but the practical/ common sense experience is lacking. In my opinion, grades don’t always represent our knowledge.

      Like

  4. “I find it pretty disturbing to see occupations that have more constructive feedback in their performance reviews than our classrooms have in their course assessments.” Now that is an issue, right. So we say that we are testing and assessing so that we send out a prepared workforce and yet…..I do believe that some of this may also be the result of systemic structures, however there must be a way out of it…I think there are changes taking place gradually and it is taking a little too long…

    Like

  5. Thank you Shaun. The classification and stratification of students by a letter or number is a disturbing, often avoided subject in education. What is an “A” student compared to a “C” student? Your post presents this issue for discussion and contemplation of how to avoid this pigeon holing of students. As undergraduates, students are rewarded for high GPAs with awards such as Dean’s List or President’s list. Do the Deans or Presidents know any of the students being given the award bearing their title? What is the point of grades on a test or to signify completion of a course? What do grades really reflect? Yes, maybe educational systems need to utilize evaluations rather than grades to reflect a students progress.

    Like

    1. Thank you Shaun. The classification and stratification of students by a letter or number is a disturbing, often avoided subject in education. What is an “A” student compared to a “C” student? Your post presents this issue for discussion and contemplation of how to avoid this pigeon holing of students. As undergraduates, students are rewarded for high GPAs with awards such as Dean’s List or President’s list. Do the Deans or Presidents know any of the students being given the award bearing their title? What is the point of grades on a test or to signify completion of a course? What do grades really reflect? Yes, maybe educational systems need to utilize evaluations rather than grades to reflect a students progress. OOPS, forgot to put my name on this reply. I need the credit so I can get my grade.

      Like

  6. “grades are a long outdated sorting tool” I love that line. That’s exactly what it is, it’s a way of classifying students in tiers measured by arbitrarily assigned points. None of this actually gets at someone’s understanding or comprehension of material or ability to critically interact with the material they are being taught. The idea that all of it is just for the students survival and to get through the material is pretty depressing too.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s