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.
“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.
“In this article, we describe an easily adoptable and adaptable model for a one-credit capstone course that we designed to assess goals at the programmatic and institutional levels.” (p. 523) That’s what the authors claim in the article referenced below, and that’s what they deliver. The capstone course they write about is the culmination of a degree in political science at a public university.
“Creating a climate that maximizes student accomplishment in any discipline focuses on student learning instead of assigning grades. This requires students to be involved as partners in the assessment of learning and to use assessment results to change their own learning tactics.” (p. 136) The authors of this comment continue by pointing out that this assessment involves the use of formative feedback and that feedback has the greatest benefit when it addresses multiple aspects of learning. This kind of assessment should contain feedback on the product (the completed task) and feedback on progress (the extent to which the student is improving over time). The article then describes a number of formative feedback activities that illustrate how students can be involved as partners in the assessment process. Their involvement means that formative feedback can be given more frequently.