grading rant

I ranted about grading to my class today (that’s not my class above, that’s Joonhwan Lee’s thesis defense!). My basic argument was that before grading, approximately 150 years ago, we gave detailed, concrete, faceted feedback to students because there was no other way. We didn’t feel compelled to convert all of a student’s skills and knowledge into a single number or a letter grade. And, not only were there wonderful benefits to this form of feedback, but that form of assessment was devoid of all of the problems of a numerical assessment. Students cannot “game” a verbal assessment, but they can game a test. Teachers could spend the time they would normally spend grading paying closer attention to their students’ progress.

The worst part about modern grading is that most employers don’t care. They might use grades as a low-pass filter, to ignore applicants with less than a 2.5, but what they really care about is what a person can do. They want examples of writing, of thinking, of decision making. They don’t want numerical proxies for these, they want to see the results of these skills.

So who cares about grades? Students, faculty, and universities. That’s good news for me, since I’m universities are run by faculty and faculty guide students. Now its just up to me to convince a few thousand colleagues over the next 50 years that I am right.

1 thought on “grading rant

  1. I’ve been dealing with Methods this semester. I tell my students that if I mark them off, then at least I’m helping them before they get to the exam. I tell them I have no incentive to mark them off because it takes more work and I don’t take pleasure in it, but ultimately I need to do my job and do it right.

    But even the scalar grade tells students something right? “I need to work harder.” or “I could be doing better.”

    OTOH, I really don’t want anyone to fail. The idea of someone paying so much to fail really pains me. But I guess school can’t be risk free if it is to prepare someone for life.

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