Grading and formative assessment – what is the difference?


These days we are discussing the value of grades in Norway. Many schools have decided not to give the students grades, but to focus on explaining what they did well and how they can do better. Taking the focus away from the letter or number will help the students keep the focus on learning, and hopefully will encourage them to enjoy learning and achieving their goal. It seems to be a disagreement between the two major teachers unions here, one claiming this is just fooling the students and not preparing them for the real world. Aftenposten.  I’m not sure about this real world where you do get grades, in my opinion, grades only have one purpose and that is to distinguish between those who are accepted into higher education and those who are not. Not even sure if many of you future employers look too closely at your grades. I guess it depends on your education. Either way, we need to focus on research here, not what feels right to the individual teacher. I am more and more sure that grading is not the best way to encourage learning, and that the schools that are trying out formative assessments without grades are on the right track.

I wrote about this in an earlier article and encourage you to read it.

This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete the assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

To get you in the right grading mood I’m sharing some cartoons I found here. Larry Cuban on school reform and classroom practice.  They certainly made my day.

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