Monday, April 14, 2014

The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation

In Mary Weiner’s book “Learner-Centered Teaching” (1) there is a chapter that addresses the purpose and processes of evaluation. It notes that, as has always been the case, grading students is necessary and that students place great importance upon their grades. This is not surprising. But perhaps we need to look at this from a slightly different perspective: this may be an opportunity to help students learn. We should acknowledge the importance of grades, but harness their power to help in learning. To that end, Weimer offers some thoughts.

1.       First she suggests we harness the power of grades to motivate students. She notes that grades energize students. And she notes we can use that motivation for productive outcomes. We can do this be letting students know that learning matters more than grades. They still call the person who graduated last in your class “Doctor.” Meaning, later in life, whether you got an A or a B in a class may mean little.

2.       She next suggests we make the evaluation experience less stressful. The ability to harness grades to advance learning can be seriously diminished by increasing the stress associated with earning them. If I overhear one complaint in walking through the halls, it is about the stress people anticipate when facing certain examinations in the program. While stress can be good and useful for motivation, too much can be counterproductive to learning.

3.       She then states that evaluation should be used only to assess learning. It should not be used to help advance personal hidden agendas. An example of a hidden agenda is writing a harder test simply because you do not feel your students are taking your class seriously enough. If more than half a class fails an examination, it likely means the instructor is not doing a good job at explaining material, may not know how to write a good test, or that the test is simply be used for something other than enhancing learning.

4.       A final recommendation is to focus more on formative feedback. Are we suing our tests for this purpose. We may cover them in class, but are we doing so to meet a KPA or to truly help students understand what they missed and learn from that? How do we use the test to help them learn, fi we do not discuss it at all?
This is just food for thought and another way to look at an important question.


1.       Weimer M. Learner-centered teaching, second edition. San Francisco, CA; JOssey-Bass, 2013

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