Grading: the myth of objectivity

Objectivity as an ideal when assessing students must die. I do not mean we should abandon our goal to accurately asses what our students know, but we must admit that we can NOT be objective. Some believe that having tests with “right” answers leads to greater objectivity. Unfortunately, the very fact that someone made the decision to include THOSE questions makes the test creation a biased act and therefore the assessment is biased (subjective). Sometimes the language with which these kinds of tests (ie: multiple choice) are written is biased. Some students do not understand nuances of language that may be necessary to correctly interpret questions. Furthermore, these kinds of tests could just be assessing a student’s ability to take a test (ie: their ability to eliminate answers, or look for context clues within the question itself). While this may be a worthwhile skill (it has served me well, but also dis-served me as well). I don’t know many teachers who would argue that “being able to take a test” is the goal of education.

I suggest we admit that our assessments are merely a judgement. Our judgement of students’ understanding and effort as measured by OUR measuring sticks not THE measuring sticks. I believe that once we admit the subjective nature of assessment, we will be free to work towards more authentic and hopefully accurate assessment means.

We all want our students to understand rather than memorize; to apply rather than repeat. Yet, some of us are stuck in an ideology of objectivity that never really existed in the first place. Give yourself permission to use a student’s free writing on a topic to judge how well they understand the concept. Give yourself permission to assign a grade based on students’ cumulative work and maybe even give yourself permission to not have a “test”. Removing the objectivity myth may be the first step to better assessment and better learning in our classrooms.

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9 Responses to Grading: the myth of objectivity

  1. “Give yourself permission to assign a grade based on students’ cumulative work and maybe even give yourself permission to not have a “test”.” Check. Done.

    Disclaimer: The realist in me says two keys to success here are a bit outside my control.
    1) Parents giving me permission to do so as well, which leads to…
    2) Administrator support if/when #1 isn’t present. :)

    Do you have any suggestions on how we, as an educational system, might be able to move past these two factors and make this idea a reality?

    • jerridkruse says:

      Good points. I personally approached my admin before starting such a system. They were very on board…i’m pretty lucky. Also, I get a LOT of parent emails about student grades. I enter “learning grades” just to keep both students and parents abreast of how things are going, but these “learning grades” can be erased by later “understanding grades”. Meaning, I am not interested in whether students “get it” right away, I am interested if they can demonstrate understanding near the end of instruction. Once I explain these thoughts to parents, they are usually on board.

      As far as dealing with admin that may not be “on board”, you can always give “tests”. But who says they have to be worth very much. You could give a traditional test worth 50 points accompanied by a more authentic assessment worth 150 points….that way your admin is happy, parents are happy cause your class “looks” the way they think it should, and you are still doing what you know is good for students. :)

  2. Kelly says:

    You took the words right out of my head. Will all the jibber-jabber about grading, assessing, etc., I think this post is well said with realistic thinking. Especially in Language Arts, I operate in a world of “judgment,” not “right or wrong,” unless it’s fundamental grammar and punctuation, and even then, many aspects of grammar are open to debate and context. Thanks!

    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks! I teach science so I’m glad someone in a different discipline agrees! I think math & science teachers are especially susceptable to the objectivity myth since their discipline is supposedly cold hard “facts”. However anyone who actually knows how science & math really works knows there is so much ambiguity & creativity, that objectivity is not possible nor desired!

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