GEDI,  Uncategorized

To grade or not to grade?

This week I think we have another issue without a clear-cut answer. Should we grade students? And if we do, what should we assign? And if we don’t, how do we hold students accountable? Or should we, as instructors, be responsible for that in the first place.

There is no easy answer.

I am early in my career as an instructor. However, I have had the privilege of teaching my own class and I thought quite a lot about what I would do with regards to assessment for that class the first time around. Now, considering round 2, I have even more thoughts and uncertainties to sort out.

I knew one thing before I started teaching. I don’t believe in tests. I think that while they do work in assessing some students, they don’t work for all students. What I do believe in is a multi-faceted approach with a diverse set of assessment tools. The first time I taught my class, I had students present, discuss, write guided reflections, read and write for homework and participate in group activities. What worked: small group discussions, short presentations. What needs tinkering with: written reflections on reading assignments (or just ways to encourage students to read in general).

I thought the successes went well because I was flexible with what I considered ‘good’ work from the students. I left room in my grading for creativity and engagement, even if that meant going down a different path than some of their classmates.

I thought the written responses were a failure because despite me trying to avoid reading quizzes (quizzes being just a smaller format of testing), students just were not reading the assigned texts.

I’m hoping next time to make some changes. I’m not sure yet what those changes will be, but I know that having a fixed and stagnant syllabus isn’t good for anyone. As educators, we should always be trying to improve and do a better job every time we teach of reaching our students. I might have to give podcasting a try after reading about Ray Thomas’ experience with podcasts in his class!

Some further thoughts….

After having read some of my classmates posts this week, I had a few extra thoughts that I wanted to share:

In all of this talk of college assessment and students, I sort of forgot that I went to high school. I was super fortunate in that I went to really great school for K-12. I grew up overseas and went to international schools all over the world. I never thought much about how different my experience was until I came to college and started hearing about the standardized testing in schools and college student’s AP classes.

I didn’t do AP and the only times I had to take fully standardized tests was for the SATs and one set of SOLs when I was 10 years old.

Instead of AP, I was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. IB had a few ways that they standardized their curriculum and assessment, but there was also a lot of flexibility on the part of students and teachers as well.

I took 3 standard level courses: Spanish, Theater, and English. I took 3 higher level courses: Chemistry, Math and History. I also had to take Theory of Knoweldge (TOK) which was essentially a philosophy class. In addition, I had to complete hours in Creativity, Action, and Service where I was encouraged through assessment and accountability to diversify my extra curricular activities. Finally, I had to complete an extended essay on a topic totally of my choosing.

Each class had some external assessments that were standardized and graded by teachers from other IB schools. They also had some internal assessments that were graded by the teachers of the classes I took. For each class, we had several assessments and only 1 or 2 of them would be tests. The rest of the assessments were in the form of projects, presentations and collaborative work with other students. And most of those projects and presentations were chosen my me. There were definitely criteria that I had to meet, but the meat and potatoes of the content was all up to me. Me and my classmates were assessed on 2 years worth of learning in a way that was actually kind of fun!

With the extent to which learning is standardized in American public schools, I’m not sure this variety of assessment is possible. And I do realize the privileged position I’m coming from. But, I think that some degree of freedom for students is inexplicably valuable.


  • Heather Kissel

    Aislinn, I really enjoyed your post because you gave some insight about what worked and what didn’t for the class you are teaching. I am curious about the reading reflections though–did the students just not complete the reflections, or were they just poor indicating skimming, and that’s how you knew they weren’t doing the reading? Also, I like how you mentioned that fixed syllabi are no good! I am currently taking Social Psychology, and the professor clearly updates the syllabus (at least in terms of the required reading) each semester, as some readings were published in 2019! I just appreciate how he has incorporated classic research in the field in addition to the most recent research on a topic, so I think it’s cool you are doing similar things not just with the reading list, but with all aspects of your course syllabi.

  • Sara

    Hi Aislinn,

    Your high school experience sounds so delightful. Thank you for sharing that with us. I know you are thinking through some important questions about your own grading and assessment and I am confident you will figure out the methods that work best for you…and then you’ll continue to tweak them as you gain experience. Your students, present and future, will appreciate your having gone through this thought exercise. I think you are particularly positioned to incorporate variety in your assessment of students’ learning because you lived it and appreciate the value of having been evaluated in many different ways.

  • Matthew Blair

    Thank you for the great post! I especially liked your comment “I do believe in is a multi-faceted approach with a diverse set of assessment tools” and I wish more professors took this approach. Personally, I don’t necessarily like tests or dislike them, but I do see worlds where they are necessary. There were plenty mechanics based courses I took in my engineering undergrad where there just wasn’t really a whole lot of other options. As I got deeper into my specialized classes I did, however, really appreciate when my professors went beyond the common ‘test model’ and incorporated projects, case studies, and other dimensions of assessment. I especially like one of my classes where the professor, on syllabus day, actually allowed the students to vote and decide on three different grading breakdowns. Though the learning objectives, course materials, and so forth didn’t change having the ability to help tailor how we, as a class, were going to be assessed made it feel like we had some say in our education. I think the biggest problem that teachers can make is assuming they always know best, and always know how their students want to learn or be assessed – that because class a loved doing this then class b will too. I guess sometimes the easiest way to know is to just ask, and sadly I do not think that conversation happens very often.

  • Şengül

    Aislinn, I really enjoyed reading your post and your thinking in grading. I am in the same boat. This semester I have been experiencing teaching for the first time and thinking very parallel with you. However, one thing confuses me in grading. When sharing your experience, you said it went well as you were flexible with you considered ‘good’ work from the students and grading more based on creativity and engagement. While we ask our students to be creative and engaged, I find hard to grade fair enough. Although I acknowledge that every student has s/he unique character, it is too hard to be “fair,” to be stuck in “certain” measurement. I was wondering whether you thought about that…

  • John

    Aislinn, I enjoyed your post. I think you have to do what is right in terms of grading for the particular class you are teaching. The “one shoe fits all” should not be applied to all classes being taught. I do not know how you don’t test in a math class. Either your know how to do to the problem or you don’t. The more classical “liberal arts” class can have more flexibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *