All enterprises require measurement in order to enable their management. Testing, grading and evaluation of education programs are the metrics by which we measure students, teachers and schools.
The liberal arts college where I teach recently underwent review for accreditation. Like many other colleges and universities, we were criticized for our lack of assessment. Faculty resistance, it seems, may be the biggest barrier to implementing institutional assessment measures (Katz, 2010; Weimer, 2013). Both Weimer and Katz accredited faculty resistance to fears that assessment data could be used for “comparison shopping” and “educational consumerism.” While these fears are justified, at my college another fear prevails; the fear that assessment will lead to hand-holding strategies that will discourage independent thought in our students and result in failure to adequately prepare them for professional life.
March 1 - The Effects of Collaborative Testing
Although letting students work together on exam questions is still not a common instructional practice, it has been used more than might be expected and in a variety of ways. Sometimes students work together in groups; other times with a partner. Sometimes those groups are assembled by the instructor and sometimes students are allowed to select their partners or group members. Sometimes the groups share multiple exam experiences; other times they work collaboratively only once. Sometimes the group submits one exam with everyone in the group receiving that grade; other times students may talk about exam questions and answers but submit exams individually.
“We ought to be up to the task of figuring out what it is that our students know by the end of four years at college that they did not know at the beginning.” That’s how Stanley Katz begins a well-written essay that explores the assessment movement in higher education.
January 3 - Critical Thinking: Definitions and Assessments
Despite almost universal agreement that critical thinking needs to be taught in college, now perhaps more than ever before, there is much less agreement on definitions and dimensions. “Critical thinking can include the thinker’s dispositions and orientations; a range of specific analytical, evaluative, and problem-solving skills; contextual influences; use of multiple perspectives; awareness of one’s own assumptions; capacities for metacognition; or a specific set of thinking processes or tasks.” (p. 127)
November 1 - Should Student Effort Count?
We’ve all had conversations with students who want effort counted in their grade: “But I tried so hard … I studied for hours … I am really working in this course.” The question is, should effort count? Less commonly asked, however, is whether it should count in both directions. Students want effort to count when they try hard but their performance doesn’t show it. But what about when an excellent performance results without much effort? Should this lack of effort lower the grade? Beyond these theoretical questions are the pragmatic ones: Can effort be measured fairly, objectively? If so, what criteria are used to assess it?
Sometimes, in informal conversations with colleagues, I hear a statement like this, “Yeah, not a great semester, I doled out a lot of C’s.” I wonder, did this professor create learning goals that were unobtainable by most of the class or did this professor lack the skills to facilitate learning? I present this provocative lead-in as an invitation to reflect upon our presuppositions regarding grading.
There is little argument that reflective writing is a good way to foster critical thinking, encourage self expression, and give students a sense of ownership of their work (Chretien et al. 2012, Kennison and Misselwitz, 2002). This generation of college students has been doing reflective writing since elementary school so they are familiar with the process, even if not all enjoy it. Almost every academic discipline includes content on which learner reflection is appropriate; so the problem, typically, is not in creating the assignment but rather in assessing the work. How do we place a fair and equitable grade on an assignment that has so many variables? What are we looking for in our students’ work that we can reward and encourage with a good grade?
Grading serves multiple purposes. While the most obvious purpose is to evaluate students’ work — as a measure of competency, achievement, and meeting the expectations of the course — grading can also be a key to communication, motivation, organization and faculty/student reflection. It’s for that reason that Virginia Johnson Anderson, EdD, calls grading “a context-dependent, complex process.”
They’re a hassle. Depending on whether it means constructing a different exam, arranging a time and location to administer the exam, or grading after the fact, a makeup exam can consume a lot of extra time and effort. Unfortunately, such exams are pretty much a necessity. Most of our institutions require faculty to excuse students for certain events and activities such as serious illnesses, court appearances, military duty, and university-sponsored athletics.
July 19 - Sustaining Assessment Efforts
Requirements from accreditors and the Higher Education Opportunities Act (HEOA) have made assessment more important than ever. The key to doing it well is adopting sustainable assessment practices, says Linda Suskie, author of Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide.