My Math Education Blog

"There is no one way"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Assessment Postscript

A few months ago, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of assessment. (It starts here.) Even though the series extended to eight posts, I didn't manage to include everything I had wanted to say. Here are a few thoughts that didn't make it into the series.

1. Obedience

For some of us, assessment policies reward memory and docility more than understanding. I kid you not: some teachers take points off for a staple in the wrong location. Many will penalize students irrelevantly by having their attendance or punctuality affect their grade. Yes, there's a place for that, but it's not why we became math teachers. Our job is to teach math, not obedience to authority figures. Moreover, there are all sorts of biases built into this, because students from different backgrounds (and in fact, different genders) often have different relationships to authority, and that has little to do with their ability to do math.

2. Points

One thing that reveals the subjectivity of grades is the fact that the points that are its ingredients get added up even though they represent incommensurable things. x points for class participation, y points for homework, z points for quizzes, etc. It's like adding a student's height, weight, and temperature, in the hope of getting a meaningful sum.

3. Alternative assessments

My post on Assessment Tools and Strategies reflected my own practices. However, there are other options. I will not say a lot about those, as I am not an expert, but here are a few ideas:
• Group tests, with the score determined by a random drawing among each group's papers.
• Participation quizzes, where you watch the class work and make notes on students' work habits.
• Observing and evaluating students' class work.
• Notebook checks, which give you a different window on student understanding.
• Holistic scoring of student written work (a lot faster than rubrics.)
• Quick Yes/No rubrics (see Algebra: Themes, Tools, Concepts, Teachers' Edition p. 560.)
• Portfolios: a student-compiled folder containing the student's best work.
Student self-evaluations in journals or other forms can help round out the picture.

Anita Wah and I elaborated on many of these ideas in ATTC TE, pp. 552-555.

Teachers like to complain about the grade grubbing culture at their school. We like to imagine a world where all students are strictly motivated by their interest in what we are teaching. I sympathize, but I don't blame the students: they reflect the broader culture, and especially the culture and structures of our own school, and our own complicity in those. If you want to reduce grade grubbing, figure out ways to de-emphasize grades.

I hope to combine the original series of posts into an article for my Web site. When I do, I'll insert the above bits in the appropriate places.

--Henri

Legitimate Uses of Assessment
Problematic Uses of Assessment