Why are we still using grades?

March 1, 2016 Trudy Milburn

When I talk with Assessment Directors around the country, they often describe their desire to simplify the assessment process by enabling instructors to evaluate students’ assignment whereby they would simultaneously provide grades as well as assess learning outcomes on a rubric.  That got me thinking about the value of grades and what they really mean in comparison to assessment.

Two events this past summer really prompted further exploration into this question.  Both events took place during the CollabExLive! Conference.  The first was prompted by a rubric roundtable, where we talked about the difference about a rubric used for grading and one used to assess student learning outcomes (Michelle Curtis wrote two follow up blogs about this here and here).

The second event, was the presentation by Arthur Levine, “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student.” After he spoke, I was struck by the structural issues involved with grade inflation. I hadn’t heard many conversations that connected the increasing number of adjunct faculty employed by campuses and the need for positive teaching evaluations to remain employed.

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education issued a call for questions about new innovations in higher education. I submitted my question about why we’re still using grades, and Corinne Ruff posted a response to her investigation on March 1st. It’s nice to have the question posed in a public forum.  Perhaps it will prompt more conversations on campuses around the differences between grading and assessing learning outcomes. I know it’s gotten me thinking more carefully about my own teaching practices as I strive to find better ways to help students learn.

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