It’s Broke, and It Can’t Be Fixed

If you took a picture of a classroom at the time of the War of 1812, a professor once pointed out to me, it would look roughly the same as a classroom today: teacher in front, a blackboard, students in chairs. Maybe our classrooms have white boards, or some sort of electronic board; perhaps there’s a computer on the podium and a screen that drops down. In any case, the modern classroom has changed far less than, say, transportation over the last two centuries.

Then as now we had grades, yet we know that grades are not good ways to guide learning. Most grades– even if derived from multiple choice testing– are unreliable. Still we continue to have this pre-modern urge to rank and sort in simple, easy to comprehend ways. Grades can be cruel too, which is why we have grade inflation as well as the perennial complaints about grade inflation.
An authentic assessment of learning is a complex portrait not a letter or number.

‘“It’s generally recognized that an A by itself is not very meaningful,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “Giving statistical context to assist recipients of a transcript in understanding the grades is definitely helpful.’” (A Quest to Explain What Grades Really Mean) Context is necessary but not sufficient. Grades are old, worn out technology; they need to be replaced.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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