Students should have say in classroom grading policy

September 1, 2023

Regarding Jeff Byrem's letter, "On the relative lunacy of grading," I understand exactly where he is coming from. There is, ultimately, no fair way of judging every student's achievement because every teacher brings their best assessment through the subjectively determined criteria of what they feel is most important that students learn.

Another way, although I am not sure it would work at the high school level, is to have a discussion with the class about their expectations for the coming semester, how they should be judged and how a grade should be arrived at for each student in the class – at the collegiate level, the instructor is teaching one subject in that class – and further discussions about what criteria are key to making such a determination. Who gets to judge whether learning has been accomplished? 

In my classes, the discussion involved the number of writing assignments, due dates and whether students would be allowed to revise for a better grade. How many assignments would be required to demonstrate what was being taught was being absorbed and, perhaps, assimilated in their thinking?

As to criteria, what does one hope to accomplish with one’s college writing when no longer in the class – are they able to use skills learned for their other classes and, if so, how, and why are some people listened to, or seem more authoritative? What’s the difference? How does this apply to writing?

Does a writer know their subject? Do they sound as if they know their subject? How can you tell when someone is faking knowledge of a subject? Why is the order of presentation of facts in a dispute important to a greater understanding of a dispute and the strength of the argument? Is the writer obfuscating or writing clearly? Would anyone with a real, actual basis of knowledge understand what was being written? 

The answers, arrived at by consensus, gave the students a sense they were involved in how the class operated and the results demonstrated. The students even had to thoughtfully grade one of their classmates' papers, and a grade was assigned to the student grader based on the feedback given to the student author. A hasty job with few corrections or comments and a high grade suggested to a class that that person had not treated the assignment seriously, and they received a lower grade from the class for that exercise. Classroom writing and grading exercises were invariably one of the factors, established by the class, in the calculation of final grades rather than relying upon two or three papers turned in as homework assignments.

Invariably, students invested in the number and length of assignments, revisions and in-class exercises, the criteria used to grade their work and understanding what went into assigning a grade, take a greater interest in the class, the assignments and the learning, and, happily, many of my former freshmen students have gone on to become educators themselves.

Jamie Brown
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