Thursday, March 12, 2009

The value of assessment

I meant to comment on this blog post and the associated news story a while back but I didn't get a chance until now.

I think that in the blog post Assessment is confused with Grading based on this comment:
It was not his job, as he explained later, to rank their skills for future employers, or train them to be “information transfer machines,” regurgitating facts on demand. Released from the pressure to ace the test, they would become “scientists, not automatons,” he reasoned.

These concepts are not the same thing!

Assessment is what you do to verify that students do indeed have understood and are able to apply what you've been trying to teach them. There are of course different levels of understanding, and this is where there is some attempt to overlap with Grading systems. The instrument used in this process of attempting to match the level of understanding and application to a Grade is a rubric (I dislike this word by the way).

Yes, grades can be arbitrary, and trying to boil learning down to a rubric doesn't always work, however I really disagree with just giving everyone an A+. It disincentivizes them from participating and learning in the class.

An approach used by one of my professors was to tells us that just by entering the class, we all had an A. It was now our duty to maintain that A throughout the semester by doing the work and proving that we understood the material and were able to apply it in our fields. I don't think this is necessary the best approach, but it is certainly better than giving a carte blance to students to do whatever work they feel like and still get an A+.
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