Linda Suskie

  A Common Sense Approach to Assessment & Accreditation

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Why aren't grades good enough?

Posted on November 17, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Why aren't grades sufficient evidence of student learning? 


1. Grades alone do not usually provide meaningful information on exactly what students have and have not learned. So it's hard to use grades alone to decide how to improve teaching and learning.


2. Grading and assessment criteria sometimes differ. Some components of grades reflect classroom management strategies (attendance, timely submission of assignments) rather than achievement of key learning outcomes.


3. Grading standards are sometimes vague or inconsistent. They may weight relatively unimportant (but easier to assess) outcomes more heavily than some major (but harder to assess) outcomes.


4. Grades do not reflect all learning experiences. They provide information on student performance in individual courses and assignments but not student progress in achieving program-wide or institution-wide outcomes.


That said, the grading process can provide excellent evidence of achievement of key learning outcomes, and using information from the grading process in this way can make assessment faster, easier, and more meaningful. NILOA (the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment) has recently published a paper on how Prince George's Community College in Maryland is doing exactly this: http://learningoutcomesassessment.org/OccasionalPapernineteen.html.


You'll see from the NILOA paper that using the grading process to collect assessment evidence works only when faculty are willing to collaborate and agree on at least base grading criteria. I often suggest a two-part rubric: the top half provides the common criteria everyone agrees to, and the bottom half is class-specific criteria that individual faculty want to factor into grades.


Categories: Clearing the Fog

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