I saw an interesting Twitter chat question a few days ago – “What is your definition of assessment?”

My thought – An observation of a students demonstration of skill or content knowledge in relation to where the standards suggest they need to be.

Ambiguous? Yes.

But so isn’t “assessment”.

This term is often conflated with “grade” or “test” or “quiz” or “paper” or “project”. But none of these go together! It is entirely possible to assess a student without it being graded. It is entirely possible to allow a student to demonstrate their ability in a unique way.

The problem is with the adults in the building, not the students. Students have been trained since their first days in elementary school that if something is important it has a grade attached to it. That’s why if a teacher asks for a minimum of 3 sources they will get, almost to a student, exactly 3 sources. Why would they do more? That’s what they need for the grade. Adults in the schools know grades. They make them “objective” with rubrics and multiple choice questions. This illusion of objectivity makes us feel comfortable. It’s what we know. It feels… fair. If a student fails well… that’s on them.

The “objective” tool that most irritates me is the quiz. Scheduled or in its pop version quizzes are meant to be a formative assessment. They are designed to be an assessment of what students know and what they don’t so that the teacher can correct misunderstandings. It also allows the teacher to be reflective in their own practice. Sometimes it is hard to remember but we are also fallible. It is possible we just taught something poorly. That’s on us. The quiz should reveal these gaps in both teachers teaching and students understanding.

Why are we grading this?

I know the answer… when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. If we didn’t grade a quiz the students would have no motivation to do well. First, this makes makes a quiz an ultimatum. “Nice GPA you have there… be a shame if something happened to it.” Second, it encourages cheating. I’d we have literally taught students that the only thing that matters in a classroom is that grade some students re going to ensure they get their A. Third, it takes away ALL responsibility for bad quiz away from the teacher. Fourth, a bad quiz, which is supposed to be a formative assessment, can demolish a students overall grade. This last part is the part that really frustrates me. We want good, accurate data, and then punish students if they show us they are struggling.

So what is the solution?

Well… game inspired design. That and allow students to show their understanding in diverse ways that get feedback rather than a score.

There are no silver bullets but the various game mechanics that I have written about, like in my Boss Fight Pre-Test post, help engagement without the threat of a grade penalty.

So stop grading assessments that are meant to help students grow. Fear is not a fertilizer.