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ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITIONAL GRADING

I. Written Evaluation

The instructor writes a detailed description of the student's performance, occasionally using a checklist or some other form as a guide. Included are discussions of strengths and weaknesses, recommendations for improvement, detailed breakdowns of student progress in various aspects of the subject as well as any other comments and/or interpretations which may help the student, college personnel and future employers.

Advantages

  • Provides more complete feedback to students.
  • Can be used as an instructional tool.
  • Is more informative to others: admissions officers, employers, other instructors.
  • Encourages instructors to treat students as individuals.

    Disadvantages
  • Promotes greater subjectivity on instructor's part.
  • May concentrate on weaknesses rather than providing a balanced judgment.
  • May be couched in vague terms, such as: fair, poor, good work, needs improvement.
  • Is very time-consuming.

    II. Self-Evaluation

Students evaluate their own progress, either in writing or in a conference with the instructor. Often the self-evaluation is combined with the instructor's written evaluation and becomes a part of the student's record. Students evaluate their own progress toward the objectives they have set or those determined by the instructor. The student will normally have some input in establishing the criteria for the evaluation. Self-evaluation may result in the determination of a self-grade but this is not always the case.

Advantages

  • Teaches students the process of evaluating themselves for the future.
  • Encourages students to take more responsibility for their own goals.
  • Includes the student's input concerning how much has gone into the learning.

    Disadvantages
  • Initially increases student tension.
  • Becomes less accurate over time, according to research.
  • When the instructor is not respected, students may abuse this opportunity.
  • Today's enormous pressures for high grades makes honesty difficult.

    III. Competency-Based Grading

The instructor decides upon the operational or behavioral objectives, determining the level of performance the students should strive for. Material is then organized so that the desired learning will take place. At the beginning of the course students are provided with complete information on: (1) what they are expected to learn, (2) how the learning will be tested, (3) what the criteria are for proficiency, (4) what levels of proficiency are required, and (5) what resources are available to help them achieve the mastery level they desire. Each student has considerable freedom with regard to pacing, resources, method of mastering material, and level of performance desired. Projects may be repeated until the student is satisfied with the grade.

Advantages

  • Removes the competitive pressure between students.
  • Allows emphasis on task accomplishment at the student's chosen level or grade.
  • Permits continued effort until the student is satisfied with no penalty for number of trials.
  • Permits individual pacing of effort.

    Disadvantages
  • Permits procrastination.
  • Causes some students to make undue effort to reach higher levels of performance.
  • Encourages some to hand in first draft projects with minimal standards met since there is no penalty for resubmission.

    IV. The Contract System

Each student sets goals, ways of reaching those goals, and procedures for evaluating progress. The instructor reviews the proposed plan, makes suggestions, and negotiates with the student. Both teacher and student then agree on the contract as negotiated and sign it. Each contract includes an agreement as to how the student's grade will be determined. This will involve both the criteria to be used and who will actually do the evaluating. Both quantity and quality may be involved in the final judgment.

Advantages

  • Eliminates much grading anxiety since the student knows exactly what is expected.
  • Eliminates some subjectivity.
  • Encourages diversity of goals.
  • May better meet individual needs.

    Disadvantages
  • Quantity of work too often becomes the major criteria for grading.
  • Quality of diverse types of projects is often very difficult to evaluate.
  • Teachers are often ambiguous in the criteria used.

    V. Pass-Fail; Credit-No Credit

The teacher decides the criteria for a passing grade or credit. Any student meeting these criteria passes and/or receives credit; those who do not meet these criteria fail and/or receive no credit.

Advantages

  • Students are more relaxed and less anxious.
  • Students are more free to take risks and explore.
  • Some students learn more.

    Disadvantages

  • Both students and instructors may do less work.
  • It is easy to slight such a course when others are taken under traditional grading.
  • These courses often cannot be counted toward a major, concentration, etc.
  • This system does not help the poor student; and it can upset the good one not to be fully recognized for the work done.

    VI. Blanket Grading

The teacher decides and announces to the class at the beginning that anyone who does the required amount of work will receive the blanket grade. Usually this is a "B", but it may be an "A" or a "C" depending upon the instructor's wishes. Sometimes it is permissible for those doing poorly to keep trying until the quality improves and some teachers giving blanket "B" or "C" grades designate extra projects which can be done to attain a higher grade. At this point the scheme tends to become a group contract grading system.

Advantages

  • Same as Pass-Fail.
  • Places emphasis upon cooperation among students.

    Disadvantages
  • Same as contract grading.
  • Students can take advantage of the situation and do little.
  • Defeats the idea of individual standards.
  • Whatever the grade decided upon, someone will be unhappy.

    * Some of the material is paraphrased from Kirschenbaum, H., Napier, R. and Simon, S. WAD-JA-GET? The Grading Game in American Education. New York: Hart Publishing Co., 1971.

Text Version

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