AA = Assessment Addiction
"I'm having school withdrawals! Grade me, tell me I'm so, so smart!" - Lisa Simpson
I will be thought-wandering.... bear with me.
Between the ongoing discussion of NCEA, own assessing of students and of course my assignments and action being assessed, thoughts about assessment are bound to arise. The principal of Newmarket Primary School (coincidentally my next practicum school) came in to talk about "reporting to parents" but mainly it was about what reports should be about. It was very interesting and inspired more than a few thoughts.
She mentioned that even though she knows grades are not at all useful, comments and constructive feedback, she still rushes to check her "grade" on her doctorate work. In fact doctorate work only has "pass" or "fail".
Grades or undue emphasis on grades or the tests that produce them remove the intrinsic motivation in learning. Focus goes from wonder and personal improvement to getting that score or that usual University student question - "Is that going to be in the test?"
I believe that grades have become a kind of psychological drug. Although I crave grades like the next junkie, I feel I am getting real medicine when I get genuine feedback. Real feedback with advice can guide me to be a happier teacher. Grades make me look sideways and compare. And perhaps rightly so for some, because grades are a big part of our culture. They are currency for getting many different kinds of jobs. But they are functionally useless. No sustenance whatsoever although they might shine your ego, or give it a gentle prick to test how durable your ego bubble is.
An interesting question is that if we move strongly towards qualitative assessment (NCEA, unit standards) over quantitative assessment (School C, bursary) will this result in a change in the learning culture of our culture. Going back to the three classes of goal motivation (from a previous post: Performance Approach, Performance Avoidance, and Mastery Approach), it could fundamentally change the nature of motivation. Qualitative assessment will be more closely aligned with the Mastery approach.
But what if you are a competitive person? Perhaps competitiveness is genetic? Robbed of your precious grading, you can no longer rely on an "objective" grade to distinguish you from the dross. Or will there still be competitiveness but over actual ability instead? In other words, a performance approach may still be just as applicable. As will performance avoidance.
Or maybe the grade-competitiveness is a product of the existing culture... so eliminate the constant grading and no longer will people look for a letter or a number to evaluate their entire being and focus on more intrinsic goals of self-improvement. Again, we are in an experimental situation with our country, which for me at least is quite refreshing.
One interesting example which arose in today's lecture where the children actually created the assessing system for an activity, and could grade themselves. e.g. The highest category was: Can do it without help and can teach others how to do it; second highest was: Can do it but needs help sometimes etc. The teacher also mentioned what criteria they would be looking for (as you should because you need to make sure all areas are covered).
With this the children know what is expected of them, can grade themselves and hence take control of the learning process, and not feel like control is outside of them. Fascinating!