Should students be graded?

Responses to the acting-instruction page.
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Postby cjhealey » Sat Jun 23, 2007 1:31 am

Evidently grading is the best method we've come up with yet. If you can't interest a pupil in the material, instilling a fear of failure to encourage them to force the material into their heads is a reasonable substitute, isn't it? I think the reason for grading's success is that it seems to produce quantified results (they passed their tests, didn't they?), which are great for politicians who want to know, "are our children learning?" Never mind whether those results are accurate or useful.

I think we should keep the 'grading' system, but all examinations should be open book - just like in real life: if you can't remember a formula, you look it up.

People will find after the first exam that the book doesn't help unless you already know how to do the work which means studying and revising it, however, it does mean that if you do forget something you have the ability look it up.
Here i am talking more in regards to math and physics subjects.

However, there are many other english based task which don't allow the use of a dictionary during examinations which i personally find a stupid restriction. Here is why:
Because if you are going to look the word up and check its spelling you have to have an idea that it isn't correct so it isn't voiding that criteria. People will probably still make just as many mistakes but when the time comes and the go 'wait, i don't think that is correct!' then they can check it, but by doing so, they have already proved that they are familiar with the correct spelling.

Also, i find the idea that you should know facts and information off the top of your head and be able to write a concise, unprepared essay on an unknown topic is just crazy, especially with a time restriction.
What does such examinations prove?
Your clerical speed and your writing ability, not your knowledge of the topic! and if you are like me and have a slow 'clerical' speed, or are the kind of person who thinks through information more than most, you will have big difficulty writing quality essays under those conditions yet will normally do very well on assignments.

And even more unusually, the criteria for both exam or assignment is exactly the same in Australia (or QLD at least) - no consideration is supposed to be taken concerning exam conditions.

It really annoys me how stupid the education system is, especially considering the way which people are normally most capable of displaying and learing real knowledge is through casual talk and interaction, not by rote or under the pressures set by schools - if anything, these reduce our ability to absorb information.

.... Grrr!

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Postby aruffo » Sat Jun 23, 2007 2:12 am

I strongly agree with the notion that testing only ever reveals a student's ability to take a test. I hadn't applied it to essay tests, though, and I like the way you put it!

The essential problem I have with "grading" is that it has been shown-- repeatedly, consistently, and infallibly-- that when an external reward is introduced to a system, and the system's participants are convinced that the external reward is the desired result, then the participants' focus inevitably turns toward achieving the reward; and the task which prompted the reward is soon considered an undesirable chore to be avoided (for an obvious non-academic example, think of embezzlement). The mere fact that "cheating" on a test can exist is representative of the inherent problem.

That's why I have continued to be so satisfied with the idea of doing a public performance at the end of an acting class; there's no way to "cheat" 'cos you either please the audience or you don't, and that is the reason to do it in the first place. Not for a "grade". In any given field, there must be similar ways to demonstrate proficiency without testing.

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Postby cjhealey » Mon Jul 23, 2007 3:49 am

test scores like the ACT and SAT are many a bright yet unmotivated student's ticket into college.

Unfortunatley it doesn't work that way in Australia. We have a 'core skills test' which is similar to the SAT/ACT test. However, all the test does is determine the level that your school is at and generally bears no influence on your ability to get into universities.
We have what we call and o.p or 'overall position' which assigns you a number from 1 to 25 based on how you compare to the rest of the state.

You could get Very High Acheivement or A+ for all your subjects and still not get a op. better than 6 or 7 (o.p. 1 being the best). Why? Because if the majority of your year flunks the core skills test then even if you get an A+ on it, it is taken to mean that the school is marking too easily or that it is easy to be the top in the class by comparison to others. Hence you get a lower outcome.

Sadly I force myself to do the work and to strive for the A+'s but i generally do not achieve them nor enjoy trying to. It is simply something that we get told over and over again: that we need to do the best we can because 'otherwise it could mess your life up'.

And the fear works for the most part. But it is NOT conducive to learning. Ask anyone a month after a math exam to resit it without preperation and i can almost garauntee most will probably fail.
The implied goal is to get an 'A+' or a Very High Achievement, NOT to learn the work.

However, when I do the rare few assignments on topics that really interest me i normally do well and have great retention of the information. Why? Because I'm no longer doing the assignment for the grade, I am doing it because i enjoy it.

Fear doesn't work. The only way to truly learn something well is to have a real, non-grade related intrest in the topic.

This has indeed been shown so often in real life that it is not funny. People remember information far more easily when it is discussed in casual conversation with discussion and inquiry from both parties.

I remember all the stupid things that our state politician does even when it is only discussed once because their stupidity and lack of real-life knowledge completely amazes me.

And again, the reason this is so is because there is no necessity to actually remember the information which means there is no stress involved in the learning process. The brain HATES stress and if stress is unrelieved like it often is in schooling and working situation, people mentally burn out.
I know of someone who ended up sitting, staring at a wall for 6 months because he couldn't handle the work load he was getting given and the stress drove him to partial insanity. He has recovered now thankfully...

Unfortunatley, student are submitted to equally as damaging circumstances and workloads and for what? Surely not to actually learn. No, merely to get a result on a piece of paper.

Intrestingly, Chris, I asked a teacher the other day your question: Do exams actually as examine abilities or do they examine a students ability to take a test?
Her answer was: "Definatley the ability to take a test."

Unfortunatley, teachers don't have the liberty to determine how they teach and assess work nearly as much as they should.

I think people should be given several options on how to prove learned knowledge besides just the usual heads-down examination.

For example, in English classes, you could be assesed via a speech, an assignment, an exam paper, a presentation/performance etc.
So instead of just writing an essay, you could choose to write a script which deals with the content and act it out.

Yes, writing ability has to be assessed, but it gives the student the ability to choose the format of submission. So long as all areas of the course are fullfilled i can't see why it'd be a problem...

For example, so long as you had done atleast 1 speech, 1 essay and 1 exam it would be fine.
However, you should be able to choose to redo a particular one in order to upgrade your mark.
So if you did badly on one exam, you could do another exam if you choose to. The best submission should then be taken.

This would work because people who are lazy wont bother to upgrade a poor mark, yet people who are dedicated will be given the opporuity to achieve their best.

Chris :-)

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Postby Axeman » Tue Oct 21, 2008 2:46 am

Hey this is all great food for thought.
I am a public school teacher. Often I am a reluctant participant to silly practices in regard to assessment.
The difference between ligitimate assesment and illigitimate has been rightly recognised as the difference between what is called formative and summative assessment. The former being assessment that informs learner and teacher alike of the learner's progress along a continuum of knowledge or skill, the latter being a grading or summation of what has been acquired or accomplished by the learner. Summative assessment only has legitimacy if it is part of the formative process. Or if it is testing a particular skill - like the doctor example in earlier posts. The problem with summative assessment is that it is an end point whereas formative assessment is acknowledging learning as a step along the way.
The trouble is not that teachers don't know what to teach but that they are asked to provide 'evidence' of achievement. This leads to the silly practices of report comments and grades. I think that most of the report comments (I'm thinking of primary aged children - my specialty) are a teachers best guest most of the time and are generalised comments that are 'dummed down' for parents sake. This is because of the format of reports not necessarily because teachers lack knowledge of their students' abilities. Just this afternoon I was part of a staff meeting where writing ability was being discussed. Grading criteria/indicators of ability were being consulted and exemplars of childrens' writing were being assessed against them. The difficulty for one teacher was that of being able to write the appropriate comment for the child's level according to the indicators. This is an issue because the indicators are often in teacherly language which then has to be interpreted by the parents of children. I made the comment that the indicators could be taught to parents in a teacher parent night (actually a letter would be sufficient I think) but this was considered too hard. Obviously teachers do not have confidence in the system of education because they would not have to dumb things down for parents if the parents are essentially products of the same system. It is in this climate of distrust that reporting to parents and others is done. It is as if teachers (the schools that employ them really) are an elite bunch that have all the knowledege and also the means by which it is determined that it has been dissimilated.
The other problem is a political and social one. Political because schools, school systems, universities etc want to appear to be 'good' educators. Grades help this situation because they can point to the stat's for proof of being good educators. Although I haven't come across any deliberate altering of outcomes I suppose it can happen. However, there are definitely lots of cases of fudging of progress reports that I have seen. This is because of the desire to 'break it to them easy'. The social factor is about parents wanting their child to be a 'genius' or at least 'up to scratch'. Noone wants their child to be a 'poor' learner (a dumby in common language).
My opinion is in agreement with this when it comes to assessment ...
the only "test" that makes sense is a task which cannot be accomplished by any means other than applying the target material.

I think in the above situation (the writing indicators) the best report would be the actual piece of work by the child with a learning intention/indicator pegged to the front. (Maybe even a few highlights by the teacher would be acceptable too) and this...
I think the whole system needs to become much more personal. (Maybe teachers and parents could talk more).

The education institution or at least an individual teachers pratice should be measured by the ability of the aplied target material to be of use in real problems. Because, as was nicely put by Chris...
If they learn and apply the target material, and their performance still stinks, then there was something wrong with the material to begin with.

My current difficulty is how to assess children in music (my field of expertise). The difficulty is in assessing musical 'ability' mainly. That word needs serious unpacking. The other stuff is all about certain music related knowledge like reading music, history of music, ideas about music etc which any one can learn.
The other difficulty in a public school for a person in my position is related to the percieved value of music as a discipline and whether I am to be producing musicians or just doing lip service.
Soo much more to say on all this...

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