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May 30, 2007

Continuous ungraded assessment

This is a very useful and informative post describing the use of individual progress reports instead of graded assignments.

Here is a crucial point:

I believe that the act of assigning a grade is a very conclusive and definitive one. It means that whatever has been accomplished has been deemed to have certain value and that it is time to move on. I did not want my students to see their research as fragmented into a number of separate entries, punctuated by my rubrics and marks. I want them to see their work as one continuous flow, not a series of entries.

This is part of the problem I see in a lot of portfolio implementations: the portfolio simply collects discrete graded 'units' rather than reflect an evolving state of awareness and capability. Portfolios themselves can end up as simply being another type of assignment; getting out of the episodic grading habit requires some serious effort and creativity.

Ultimately when teaching (and, admittedly, I havent done any for a few years now) the assessment strategy is the absolutely critical determining factor; no other innovations will 'stick' if they are out of step with the assessment strategy, and often this is the most conservative part of institutional policy.

I don't know if this individual progress reporting, supported by the self-evaluation sheets, is the answer, but it certainly looks like its going in the right direction.

I think an important challenge is how we deal with the macro goals: the evaluation of progress towards longer term professional capability, and how we relate that to formal accreditation. I think portfolios have a big part to play here, but only if they contain evidence of progressively more sophisticated authentic practice, rather just than a big pile of graded assignments to be averaged.

There is also an issue of value here too; academics spend a lot of their time designing, collating, marking and distributing assessments. Is this a good use of a scarce resource? Would it be more effective to delegate structured assessment to students, and spend the staff time on individual progress meetings instead?

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