Teach to learn, not to grade

By Collin Bryant | Columnist

Across the United States, professors are constantly assessing their students by simply assigning them a letter grade at the end of each assignment, quiz or test. Consequently, some of those students are happy with their results, while others scramble to find a solution to their low scores.

Unfortunately, the same student that may have failed that exam may have learned more than the seemingly successful student. Professors should teach for students to learn, not for students to feel forced to focus on their grade, and nowhere is this problem more prevalent than in college.

Since education at a college level serves as the last stepping stone to either post-graduate school (medical school, law school, etc.) or someone’s first career, tensions consistently remain high. Students are performing for a grade rather than for the betterment of their own intellectual ability.

Students are often forced to put stock in testing well on the material versus actually learning for the long haul. This can lead to a stark divide between various types of students –– those who happen to test well and then dump the material after cramming, and those who may have learned the concepts of the material but just can’t have it correlate to success on the assessment.

A student’s GPA does not care one way or another if they are actually learning, but rather, if the student is good at adequately applying the information in the specific ways assigned by the teacher. This becomes a problem for courses or degrees that rely heavily on a mastery of the past information that was supposed to be learned.

Barbara A. Swartz of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics said in an article that students who didn’t receive letter grades, but comments instead did much better in class.

“The students who received only comments significantly increased their performance, whereas, surprisingly, the students who received both grades and comments did as poorly as those who received only grades without any comments on their work,” Swartz said.

For accountability purposes, some form of assessment in the classroom is necessary. Yet, these forms assessment don’t have to be the center point for the material assigned. Professors could have the class centered on participation and discussion.

Assessment of a student’s time and absorption with assigned readings could be conducted based upon questions and responses posed by the student. This change could also look like easing up on tests, but increasing projects assigned. This would give students time to collect their thoughts and put them into a comprehensive assignment. Giving options to students at the beginning of the semester in regard to different forms of assessments they can do in order to be evaluated for the class could lead to more long-term retention of information for students that learn in different ways.

While it is obvious that America’s education system may never rid itself completely of tests or grades, it is very possible to modify the way these are carried out. Some form of an assessment is necessary to keep students and teachers accountable for the time spent in the classroom. However, there must be a modification in the system of development. With no modification, students will continue to learn to test and not learn to learn.

Collin Bryant
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