Assessing and Grading that Accurately Reflects Learning

What do these descriptions have in common?

  • Extra credit awarded for bringing in class supplies 
  • A well-crafted, thought-provoking essay on a crumpled piece of paper without the required title page
  • A glossy poster representing a unit of study that was produced by a student’s parent who is a graphic designer 
  • A third-of-credit reduction in an assignment that was an hour late
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In each of these cases, of course, a student’s final grade may not be an accurate reflection of what the student has actually learned. Rather, there may be various degrees of grade distortion that more closely reflect a student’s ability to follow specific classroom rules and to please a teacher rather than demonstrate learning and a mastery of material.

As students progress through school, there are many factors that contribute to their grades and students are asked to navigate these variations from class to class. Yet, students, parents, and admissions offices at the schools where students choose to apply depend on grades that reflect objective standards. A student’s transcript can have serious consequences.

To offer greater consistency in these reports, schools need to provide clear guidelines for grading and encourage teachers to assess a wide sampling of students’ work over time based on uniform assessments of learning outcomes. When appropriate, teachers may also want to give grades that emphasize the progress students make during the course of study. Rather than averaging all of the grades in a given term, teachers may want to weigh the later grades more heavily to reward improvements in mastery. This practice may also strengthen the connection between the learning and the final grade through the scope of the curriculum.

There will always be some degree of subjectivity in student grading, just as there will always be certain students who learn better from certain styles of teaching. But the more consistent teachers can be within their classes, the more grades can be used to both accurately reflect the learning that takes place as well as motivate students to learn the content that really counts.

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