When I worked with teachers last week, the issue of the high school-college connection came up again. The context was simply the idea that by having a unit test at the end of each section of material, this prepped kids for college. While I don't dispute that tests are a part of college life, I'm not so sure that this line of reasoning is the most valid one. Not every kid is going to college. And more importantly, shouldn't there be a better reason to assess student learning than "just because"?
And...what if high school's assumptions about college are wrong? (Or at least may well be very soon)
Is it time to move beyond grades? That was the question considered — largely in the affirmative — at a workshop Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It may seem counterintuitive to think that this is a time for colleges to consider giving up grades. Many college administrators feel that accreditors are breathing down their necks, demanding more and more evidence of student learning. With the economy falling apart, parents want to be assured that their children are learning something. And the vast majority of colleges award grades.
But when organizers of the workshop had audience members describe their experiences with grading, the closest they came to a fan was an associate provost who admitted that he saw grade inflation as completely out of control and said that for more students at his and similar institutions, the grade-point average range is around 3.4 to 3.8. It seemed that everyone else in the room had been motivated to attend by their sense that the system isn’t working: Other academic administrators who said grades had become meaningless. A registrar who said that she was struggling to understand the apparent inconsistencies in faculty members’ grades. A professor who tells his students that “grades are the death of composition.” Another said: “Grades create a facade of coherence.”
Many said they assumed that it was politically impossible to eliminate grades. But they heard from educators at colleges that have done so and survived to tell the tale. And notably, they heard from colleges offering evidence that the elimination of grades — if they are replaced with narrative evaluations, rubrics, and clear learning goals — results in more accountability and better ways for a colleges to measure the success not only of students but of its academic programs.
There's much more to read in the Inside Higher Ed article: Imagining College Without Grades. I do wonder if there will be an opportunity to bring the k-20 spectrum to the same table at some point to talk about grades. We seem to all be working in isolation on this topic...speculating about what the other is doing and the reasons for ascribing motivation to our actions. When it comes to grading, can't we all just get along?