Grading is Personal

Grading is Personal

Originally Published: May 31, 2016 in ASCD Blogs

Suppose during a physical examination, your doctor recorded data on your height, weight, blood pressure, and heart rate, and asked you a series of questions about your health. Then after gathering all this information, suppose the doctor had a computer tally the data and compute a single number to describe your physical condition. The doctor told you the number, suggested how you might improve it, and ended the examination.

Would you be satisfied with this response? Would you trust that a computer that uses the same algorithm for all patients would come up with a truly accurate assessment of your health? Or do you believe that a thoughtful, informed professional who knows something about you as an individual could evaluate that evidence more thoroughly and make a more accurate assessment? Most of us rightfully believe the latter. After all, assessing our health is not a mechanical process. It’s personal.

The same is true when assigning summary grades to students. As we explain in the April 2016 Educational Leadership article, “Grading: Why You Should Trust Your Judgment,” computerized grading programs use statistical algorithms to determine summary grades for all students in the same way. They know nothing about the students, the subject, the accuracy of the data, or the context in which those measures were gathered. But because an impersonal machine makes the computations, many teachers believe the calculated grade is objective, fair, and accurate.

Allowing computers to take over the task of grading is a disservice to students. Grading requires thoughtful and informed teachers who know their students as individuals to weigh the evidence
carefully and make fair, accurate, and evidence-based decisions about the quality of students’ performance. Like assessing health, grading is not a mechanical process. It, too, is personal.

If you don’t believe it, ask any student. No one has ever said, “The computer gave me a C.” To students, grades always come from teachers.

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