In Finland’s system of basic education and high school grading is in general carried out numerically from 4 (disqualified) to 10 (excellent). Although most elementary schools give grading as verbal evaluation until certain age. Still, most students start receiving numerical grades latest from the end of elementary school around the age of 12 onwards. Vocational schools give grades from 1 (worst) to 3 (excellent) and universities apply grading from 1 (worst) to 5 (excellent).
Grades hold great power on the students, even as far as in terms of identity building. Actually in Finland there’s a gender-specific concept of ‘ten girl‘ (kympin tyttö) suggesting females are better students as well as the highest grade 10 is an ideal norm everyone should pursue. Grades are therefore a means to categorize students to ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones. Consequently, some students start pursuing after the highest grades with mixed motives. That begs the question have grades become an end itself and has actual learning become secondary?
Another dilemma with the paradigm of grading systems lies with their motivational aspect. They’re constructed upon the idea of external motivation since grading is enforced through curriculum, which students usually have minimal impact on. My ongoing concern with the current grading system is due to students not caring for school not aiming for better grades either. Are there ways of motivating students more evenly?
Perhaps there is. Lately I have been reading a book about ipsative assesment (Latin: ipse, “of the self”) by Gwyneth Hughes ‘Ipsative Assessment – Motivation through Marking Progress‘. It’s an inclusive and individual assesment method originating on internal motivation, in which students set the evaluation criteria themselves. That can be a learning goal, numerical grade or whatever one prefers. Also one’s performance isn’t compared to others – only on their own (setting it apart from the basic self-evaluation). I’m not proposing the current grading system to be scrapped per se, but instead complementing it with advanced and individual grading mechanisms. Sure, implementing them takes time and effort from the teacher/educational staff, yet may yield in better learning results.
Additionally, one could wonder perhaps the root cause isn’t grades itself but the way they are applied by teachers. Ideal scenario is that teachers review students’ performance through tests, essays, portfolios and so forth. And based on those curriculum-set criteria they evaluate each student individually. Problems arise however when:
1) Students don’t know exactly how they are evaluated
e.g. how a grade is formed and how to improve it?
2) Teachers assign grades arbitrarily
e.g. is there a pedagogical reason for a student to gain a higher grade? Is someone favoured?
To conclude, there’s much work to be done in creating truly transparent and motivating evaluation mechanisms 😉
Dianne Newman and Robert Brown (1996) have inspected myths related to ethics. Let’s delve straight into the topic by checking out these myths.
- Personal ethical perfection precedes serious ethical thinking
But that’s simply impossible, so one shouldn’t expect to become ethically perfect ever
- Ethics is just valuing one’s values and all values are equal
Some values are better and more universal than others
- When crossing with conflicts, direct guidelines are found in professional ethics
Professional ethics doesn’t present answers to every dilemma
- Ethical ponderings belong to committees, authorities and so forth
Nope, anyone can and should chip in
- Some are just more ethical than others
Anyone can learn to be ethical, it’s not a skill you’re just ‘born with’
- Large problems are most important due to the fact they bring up ethical discussions into limelight
But large problems start from smaller ones, so in order to be anticipatory one should stay alert and be willing to intervene in ethical misconducts — whatever the magnitude
- Ethical evaluation means that people are first and foremost evaluated
Not necessarily, since also programs or any material component could be evaluated (people are now and then sensitive when it comes to evaluation, so it’s important to let them know about the procedure)
- There’s no time for ethical pondering
Sometimes it’s merely an excuse for walking away from responsibilities
- Ethical vs. practical
Ethics is somehow pitted against of being practical, while in reality both may exist at the same time and ethics should be seen as important for evolution’s sake
Newman and Brown (1996) have presented a helpful principle for evaluation: Evaluate as you’d like to be evaluated yourself. Let’s check out more of their principles for evaluation.
- Autonomy. Normally autonomy is seen as a negative right, right? 😉
But autonomy can also be seen as positive, right for something. In a way, autonomy of pupils is greatly damaged in school evaluation: They usually don’t have say are they evaluated or not. Yet, by developing self-assesment, we can offer a path for pupils to have an impact on how they are evaluated
(more about this in future posts).
- Avoiding harm. Teacher, especially in a school environment, has a lot of pedagogical power. Thus, teachers should avoid unneccessary side-effects of evaluation by weighing which evaluation methods maximize positive impacts.
And one should keep in mind that pupils’ mental harm, stress wouldn’t rise too high as a result of evaluation(s).
- Doing good. Evaluation might feel cruel and repressive use of power. Especially since pupils are only just developing their self-esteem. Some pupils have the notion that a well-performing student equals a ‘good’ person. And through evaluation teachers might label someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
- Fairness. Equal, non-favoring and multiple angles incorporating evaluation is the key.
- Loyalty. Teacher should be trustworthy and accountable, that’s a given. But one might question loyalty when considering expectations of a pupil, parents, community, country etc. Where should teacher’s loyalty first and foremost lay?
Evaluation is an extremely important aspect of teaching. That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate next few posts to the theme. Let’s start with important values in evaluation according to Race, Brown and Smith (2005). Evaluation should be:
- Ethically fair and just. While learning experiences among pupils aren’t similar, in principle each pupil should have the same opportunities to excel. A teacher ought to make use of various evaluation methods so that no group in particular would be favored and that everyone could find a way to prove their skills.
For instance using oral exams, portfolios etc. not only written exams.
- Valid and reliable. In this case valid means that teachers evaluate only what they really wish to evaluate. If we are evaluating problem-solving skills we shouldn’t focus on clerical errors.
Relibiality means the ability to avoid chance. A pupil’s exam results can’t rest on how tired teacher was when checking the exams (easier said than done 🙂 ).
- Transparent. Pupils should be aware of evaluation methods and those methods must be in line with the curriculum. No guessing is needed when the criteria is clear, and that means less stress for the pupils as well.
- Motivate to learn more. Pupils shouldn’t be encouraged to memorize everything just exam purposes. Rather, to plan their learning ahead. Jointly with teacher, if possible.
- Demanding and enable excellence. Finding the balance where pupils are expected not too little and not too much is tricky. A teacher should generate a great empathy level and understanding about the character and skills of each pupil. In any case pupils are so individual that differentiated learning is a good goal (naturally depends on resources).