Taking the grades out of assessments

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Fifth in a series on strategies for eliminating traditional grades
by Reed Gillespie

For many, the word “assessment” conjures up thoughts about all that’s wrong with education: standardized testing, final exams, grades, etc.  

 But an effective assessment strategy actually eliminates grades
A 1991 study by Masaharu Kage revealed grading quizzes lowered students’ intrinsic motivation and led to poorer learning when compared to self-monitored, non-evaluative quizzes. Other studies have similar results.
Assessments are an important part of learning, but educators tend to leave students out of the process. Having students participate in their own evaluation, while detaching grades, increases learning.

Involving students in assessment

Here’s a simple strategy that involves students in the assessment process, creating a sense of ownership and increasing their commitment to learning.
  1. Students complete a formative assessment. This can be a quiz, classwork, project, etc.
  2. After completing the assessment, students turn their work into the teacher. If you’re concerned about student confidentiality, have students use random IDs instead of their names.
  3. Working individually, in groups, or as a class, students create a separate “answer key.” While students work, the teacher provides assistance, informally assesses performance and determines whether re-teaching will be necessary.
  4. Students return the corrected work to their teacher who then passes it back to the original student.  This step allows the teacher to further measure student understanding.
  5. Students keep a copy of their “answer key” and use that to double-check their peer’s feedback.

By working with the students through the entire process, the teacher uses the assessment as a source of information and, if necessary, can provide high-quality corrective re-teaching. Students receive instant, specific and descriptive feedback without the stigma attached to grades. Working together, the teacher and the students make choices about what to focus on next in their learning.  
With the emphasis on learning and mastery, students will be more intrinsically motivated and more willing to take risks to expand their learning.
Kage, M. The effects of evaluation on intrinsic motivation. Paper presented at the meetings of the Japan Association of Education Psychology, Joetsu, Japan. 
Reed Gillespie writes about education for Brilliant or Insane. He is a longtime educator and blogger. Catch more of Reed’s work here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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