Alphie Kohn’s post “Why the Best Teachers Don’t Give Tests” struck a chord with me. In his post he particularly talks about how some educators are so vehemently opposed to standardized testing yet adopt other practices (such as grading rubrics) that share common features with such testing. The author argues against not just standardized testing, but against testing in general (one key point he failed to mention is take-home exams and/or in-class open-book tests, which I will talk about later). This interesting post counters the authors claims and argues for more testing instead of less testing! So which way should we go as educators? Is testing making students Comfortably Numb?
As a student that has experienced varied kind of testing environments, here is my take on what worked for me:
- Take Home Exams – these were typically fairly hard and required me to go beyond what I had learnt in the class and/or from the books. The really good take-home exams, gave me ample time to finish the task and challenged me to apply my knowledge. Many take-home type final exams have been project based which has helped in the learning process.
- In-class Exams w/ Open Books and Notes – These are probably just as good as take home exams, but I was still expected to solve the problems in a limited amount of time. However, some students just aren’t good test takers in such a high pressure environment.
- Repeated Testing – Some may disagree with me here, but my personal experience has been particularly good. An engineering course I took in my final year of undergraduate studies was designed to repeatedly test students on the material i.e. there were a total of 8-10 tests in the semester (No Homeworks!). However this meant that we were tested every other week on the new material we had learnt. This sort of an arrangement really kept me on my toes and made me pay attention in class (it helped that the teacher was outstanding). I can say that I got a lot more out of this course that other courses where there were only mid-terms and/or finals.
I want to shift gears a little here and talk about my experience from the flip side i.e. my experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). As a GTA I have not only taught courses, but have also evaluated student work (based on grading rubrics). Rubrics seem to serve a good purpose, but also have severe limitations. Some advantages are fairly obvious, for instance they:
- Provide clear expectations of what is expected of the students.
- Standardize grading practices across different teachers/teaching assistants that maybe evaluating different sections of the same course
- Make it easy to communicate student performance.
- Decrease ambiguity in grading practices.
I feel like these advantages are mostly from an educators perspective. Rubrics allow for standardized grading procedures, which are simple to follow both for the student and the teacher, but give minimal feedback in the amount of time available. Rubrics cheat the student of the detailed feedback that they deserve. Here are some limitations of using grading rubrics:
- Rubrics are typically designed to measure things that are easy to quantify and thereby maybe inherently biased.
- Makes students turn in work by following rules. I have often found several inferior assignments that touched everything on the rubric and received a decent grade and several other good assignments that were thought provoking and showed me the ability of the student to think outside the box, but received a poorer grade because the work did not adhere to the rubric or presented guidelines.
- It often leaves less room for the teacher to be an authentic evaluator of the student’s work.
- While it decreases the time needed to assess the student’s work, it doesn’t allow much room for authentic communication – such as providing extensive feedback consisting of questions and follow up comments.
- Overall rubrics/points do not seem to represent student learning/progress or competence of the student in the subject matter.
Do you use rubrics for your grading? What has been your experience with them?