When it comes to assessing progress in school, there are many different philosophies tailored to many different scenarios. Whether the choice is letter grades, pass-fail, standards-based grading, or one of myriad others, there are some pitfalls that we should avoid:
- Not taking grades seriously enough.
According to John Milton Gregory, in order to prove that the student has learned, they must be able to reproduce the lesson at hand, expressing it in his own language. If we don’t assess whether the lesson has been learned, we have no accountability, either as teachers or as students.
Grades can also provide a validation of the efforts we have put into mastering a subject. The aim of true education is to change the student. This takes real effort, and being able to compare our progress to others who who traveled the road before helps to motivate us and keep us on track. (This of course presumes that our course of study is a worthy one.)
However, while helpful, grades can also lead to a very different pitfall:
- Taking grades too seriously.
There are many studies that show that grades are a poor predictor of adult success. Other attributes like work ethic, sense of purpose, and love for neighbor are much better attributes to develop. Placing identity in a particular grade can lead to a rude awakening later in life if other character virtues are not cultivated.
Focusing too much on grades and lead to anxiety and stress that is the killer of wonder and love of learning. So, the grades that were intended to assist in the process of learning turn out to be what cuts it off at the knees.
Assuming we have a good balance of taking grades seriously enough, but not too seriously, we also must avoid:
- Measuring the wrong things.
Data is only as reliable as much as it measures what we are interested in. There are many stories of parents ‘helping’ to such an extent that a child’s grade actually belongs more to the parent than the student. A regular practice of cramming the morning before a test is a great indicator of a student’s short-term memory, but very poor for evaluating whether the material has truly been mastered.
Catastrophic changes in programs, as many experienced due to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, can also lead to a misunderstanding in what exactly is being measured. Is the grade measuring progress against the ideal coursework? Or is it how the student performed relative to the circumstances she encountered at the time. There is no easy answer, and each scenario must be developed with discernment.
For Agape Christi, a stripped-down course load, delivered through media that students were not prepared for at the outset, and in many cases not ideal for their developmental stage, means that the grades for this season are measuring a student’s effort given all the challenges at hand.
Does this mean that the grading has become subjective? Not at all. It means that we are grading with grace. You still have to be able to add 1/3 and 4/5 correctly to receive a mastery grade for the fractions chapter. But there are some modification to the program at large that must be factored in to finish the year strong and prevent burn-out.
As of this writing, everyone is settling in and the teaching and learning is steadily becoming more effective, but we must always be on guard against the pitfalls that can come with grading.