What is the point of grades and how should they be determined?

Cooperative Catalyst writes about grades and rubrics and the centrality–even the singularity–of the teacher’s voice in assessment in Students should be at the center of Authentic Assessment.

The post offers some points which immediately resonate with me.

The teacher is merely one voice in the conversation. When the student is not at the center of the assessment, then it is detached and fragmented lacking any power to lead to real authentic growth.

These two sentences made me think that perhaps having students write a reflective paper to communicate their understanding of their growth in the course would be a good idea. I immediately thought of that as an option.

Yet when I read the next sentence, the strength of that reaction dissipated almost entirely.

Students might preform [sic] well, might score well on the state test, or complete all the assignments, but the minute the voice disappears there is no motivation or resources for the child to do their own work.

The issues with this statement do not revolve around the transposed letters.

The first problem is the idea that a person who has no voice in their grades has no motivation. I have never had a spoken voice in my grades. No one ever asked me what grade I deserved on a paper. But I still had motivation. Motivation is an intrinsic force, not necessarily related to nor influenced by extrinsic forces. Anyone can be motivated, despite what is happening around them, just as anyone can refuse to be motivated, despite whatever encouragement is offered.

The second problem is a question of resources. How does letting a person choose their grades–or at least have a voice in them–automatically give them any resources they did not already have for doing their work? Students who are intrinsically motivated will do their work because they work. Students who are extrinsically motivated may quit doing their work because if they have a voice in their grades they can say, “I am doing my best” and hope for an A when really they are not doing anything.

Because of the discrepancy in logical thought, I almost quit reading the post. But I read fast and it is short and so I continued.

Another paragraph also caught my attention:

During my first year of college I was asked to write a persuasive research essay and decided to argue against grading. From the beginning grades were considered merely a tool for the institution not to help learning or the student. I am still confused and frustrated that grades and rubrics are still the main source of assessment.

What beginning is DLoitz speaking about?

The beginning of education? There were no grades on the steps of the Acropolis. Plato and Aristotle did not hand out assessments.

The beginning of K-12 in the United States, instituted as a way of dealing with the need for factory workers in the industrial age and the desire to provide care for children while their parents were working? In that case, how would grades be good for the institution? The schools existed to provide something for students to do while their parents worked. Who cares about their grades?

The beginning of assessment practices in the twentieth century when schools were attempting to prove their efficacy? Well, then, there I would agree with her. Grades were not created to serve students but to stand for the institution’s understanding of their achievements to that point.

What is wrong with that?

The reason we moved to standardized testing was that institutions were not consistent. A student who could read on a fifth grade level in the Armonk, NY school system was not equivalent to a student who could read on a fifth grade level in the Lubbock, TX school system.

While this wasn’t a problem within school systems, it was a problem for industry outside the school systems. Businesses could hire a straight-A high school graduate from Willis and discover that the person’s writing was insufficiently advanced to be able to create readable memos, much less craft reports, because the student’s grades had been given not based on classroom performance but on their 4-H performance. Hiring a B-average high school graduate from Byram Hills, on the other hand, would guarantee that the student could create relevant reports with sufficient research and citations to surpass the strictest standards.

That is why standardized testing came into existence. A single school system creates its own pool with which to compare and determine grades. School systems across the country, however, can be compared on some level based on standardized exams.

There is a reason for standardized testing. It does have to do with basic learning requirements. It does NOT have anything to do with depth or breadth of knowledge. Nor does it have anything to do with the student’s understanding or innate ability. It is simply a means of comparing apples to apples.

I am going to requote the sentence which grates on me the most from the post.

I am still confused and frustrated that grades and rubrics are still the main source of assessment.

Really? A teacher who does not understand the point of assessment? Assessment is not to say whether a student is brilliant or stupid. It is not to say whether a student is lazy or works hard. It is not to say whether a student will succeed or fail. What assessment is designed to do, all it does, and the point of it doing it, is to demonstrate whether or not the student has reached minimum competencies and to allow for a range of competencies to be compared.

Do grades say how much a student has learned? No. Do grades help a student figure out how to learn better? No. Do grades tell whether a student is smart? No. Do grades tell whether a student is lazy? No. Do grades tell whether a student is honest? No. Do grades tell whether a student has integrity? No. Do grades tell whether a student has intrinsic or extrinsic forces acting upon them? No. Do grades tell whether a person will succeed or fail in their next venture? No.

But none of that matters.

Grades are simply a way to compare apples to apples.

If you want oranges, you have to assess oranges.

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