Have we given much thought to whether students learn from the grades they receive? When is the last time you heard a teacher remark: “I gave my students 10 minutes to reflect on what they learned from their test grade.”? Is a grade a measure that is instructive? What message is a grade communicating to a student? Is a grade on performance setting the student up on a path towards further learning? I think these are important questions to consider if we want to understand how to use assessments constructively.
Grades are generally used as a form of discernment that comes from the sovereignty of the teacher. The teacher sets the parameters for the assessment, administers it, grades it, and records it. The student is often just a passive participator in the process of evaluation. Students generally perform for grades as a way to please themselves, their parents or the teacher. Through administering a grade, the teacher is telling the student what he or she has learned. This leaves the student little room to make informed decisions about what has been learned or how to improve on the learning for next time.
What if students were more involved in the assessment process from beginning to end? If they contributed to the design of assessments as their learning was unfolding, both formative and summative. If they assessed themselves along the way, then there is more ownership of the grade and it becomes a more useful tool. Also, the student takes responsibility for judging him or herself rather than leaving the judging up to the teacher. Might this curtail the student asking the question: “what can I do to get more points on this test?”
Finally, by the time a student is in high school they can start driving, making important decisions about their life. Why shouldn’t they have developed the capacity and skills to manage their own academic performance and evaluation, presenting their findings to their parents in a thoughtful and coherent fashion? Do they really need an impersonal report card, with numbers or letters and some short teacher comments, to communicate how they are performing? They should be expected to present to themselves and their parents what their academic goals are, the progress they are making towards achieving them, and adjustments they are making to improve on their performance. If schools prepared students to take on this responsibility and created structures for making it happen, they would communicate to students and parents that assessment is a process and that ownership of that process is part of being a successful student. It would be less about accountability and more about learning.
Our ultimate goal over the course of a student’s life in school is to help them develop self-awareness and self-managing skills to evaluate their work and effort, iterate their course of action based on effective feedback from teachers, and assume responsibility for the progress they are making. In a school like this, I believe students would end up caring more about the quality of their efforts and the process they’re using to succeed in their studies. They would be less likely to focus on the product and more likely focus on the process of their learning if they had more responsibility and control.