According to Inside Higher Ed today, at the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ (the AAC&U) Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, the topic of how we grade, and whether it works, was discussed. As would be expected there were differing opinions on this topic. Some talked about how it would be “politically impossible” to get rid of grades (interesting… wonder why campus politics trumps an approximation of an accurate means of assessment, but I digress) and others spoke about their positive experiences eliminating A’s and F’s.
And notably, they heard from colleges offering evidence that the elimination of grades — if they are replaced with narrative evaluations, rubrics, and clear learning goals — results in more accountability and better ways for a colleges to measure the success not only of students but of its academic programs
I loved this quote from the article: ““Grades create a façade of coherence.” Well indeed they do. As a colleague of mine likes to say, ‘what really IS the difference between a B+ and an A- anyway?’ Why do teachers struggle and toil to make numerical equivalents of things that are so difficult to calibrate, such as ones ability to communicate in a language? How do you put a number, a letter a grade on that… and how do you make a grading system coherent and uniform and yet consider individual learners’ styles, their prior knowledge and experience, etc???
We can all admit that there is rampant grade inflation, and that the grading system currently in place is broken. So why aren’t schools jumping all over themselves to change the way we grade?
Why? because grading holistically, grading longitudinally is HARD work. It takes time to think about what you want to measure and how you want to measure it. It takes even longer if you ask your students to participate in that process as well. Another quote: “Ending grades can mean much more work for both students and faculty members. Done right… eliminating grades promotes rigor.”
Uh huh. Ding ding ding. A class can be rigorous not only because of the content that is studied or because of the requirements imposed by a teacher. Rigor can also come from asking our students to wrestle (along with us) in the hard work of identifying and explaining what learning looks like and how do we measure that. Students don’t generally like to do this, it is true…and many has been the time that I have been told by them that this is my job and not theirs. And yet, students come to class with specific objectives, intentions, hopes, aspirations…so why not create a grading system that somehow ties the content of the course with the students’ ability to move through that content and towards his/her intended personal learning outcomes for the class?
Which brings me back again to HISP 205, my Spanish conversation class that starts up next month.
One of the first things we are going to talk about when we get together is assessment, grading, and the incredibly arbitrary nature of the current, 87-89 = a B+ system. I need for them to see how the current system doesn’t work (for them, for anyone) and we have to create a better way to measure their linguistic accomplishments and growth over time. I will need their help to come up with a tool that actually works for this class. I will need for them to be honest and open about what they hope to accomplish in this class, as well as totally candid with themselves and others as to whether they met or missed those academic goals.
More on this later. Indeed.