Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Anti Traditional Assessment Day

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Yesterday, by some cosmic miracle, I ended up reading three very useful pieces that critique traditional forms of assessment that do not support learning.

The first was a slideshare by Jesse Stommel from his #nwelearn keynote (these just keep getting better) critiquing assessment and grading that dehumanizes the learning process.

The second was an article in the Washington Post sharing research that continues to prove homework is not helpful to learning. This touched me deeply because as a mom of a 4 year old, I am frustrated that her school want her to do homework, when i could foster her love of learning in so much more fun and playful ways. I have to say I am surprised at higher levels that research proves the same. You would think that some forms of homework should be helpful to learning, but it’s difficult to judge as I doubt many teachers assign meaningful homework that truly promotes learning. So for example practicing your French with a native French speaker must be a good idea; authentic applications of what you learn in class, must be a good idea; however, I suspect most homework is not of that nature. My boss sees lots of logical fallacies in this article. I am waiting to read them. It may be that I don’t see em coz I agree with the main arguments.

The third was very important to me. It was a blogpost by a former student of mine, frustrated with exams. Read it. She is a GOOD student, she’s not just venting frustration. She cares about learning. She is a hard worker. And she makes so many wise arguments against the way exams are used to punish and stress students rather than support their learning. So for example she says

I speak of assessment methods, and rewards/punishments. Because, I have to admit, I learn quite a lot during the time of exams. About myself, about the type of mistakes that I normally and abnormally fall into and so on. This is great, but when my future is at stake, I’m a bit worried that my learning experience has its drawbacks. When I almost fail an exam, okay yes, I’ve learned not to do the mistakes, but I’ve also lost almost 10% of my grade.

And also this:

I must also admit that the culture puts a lot of stress on “grades” and “scores” and this is why the student population does not enjoy learning. Because all they’re focused on, is how to get As. I know people who finish courses they know nothing about. Literally. What is the point behind anything inside the scope of academics if it’s not to help the student learn without all this pressure? Aren’t there more interesting ways to teach students time management, and stress-handling? If universities and schools keep threatening to tease the students’ scores in such a manner, given the importance of grades in the environment we live in, then no learning will ever happen.

I don’t have time to reflect on all of these in depth right now. I do think that people who are not educators have difficulty listening to these voices that are anti-traditional forms of assessment because they are indoctrinated by the hegemonic discourses they have been surrounded by all their lives. They can’t imagine alternatives to homework and exams, so they assume they must be good, or at least the only options. They don’t recognize that homework can be a social justice issue (e.g. kids who have supportive, emotionally stable homes w good internet access vs those that don’t); and that exams do not really even measure learning (they show which person can do well under time pressure using smart exam technique – which is absolutely not measure of long-term learning or retention). As my former student Ayah correctly points out, there are students who pass courses they know nothing about – it’s all about gaming the system.

I am glad I have never assigned an exam in a course where I had control over assessment (which is all of em since 2008) and I always question my assessments. But I still have to assign grades. And I hate that.

I leave you with a couple of my favorite slides from Jesse’s presentation

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