How to (better) assess learners

As we demonstrated in this white paper, assessing learners can lead to many issues: stress, regression of learning, it is necessary to understand why grades and assessments are problematic.

Should we stop grading? Should we assess differently?

The problems

Assessing has become problematic. Between 30% and 40% of American students experience anxiety due to exams. In French higher education, it goes up to 51%.

There is also now a schism between learning and grading. From high school to the end of university, a learner is more likely to focus solely on his mark, considered the final reward, rather than the comments made to him.

As exams approach, students are swept in rather than following a continuous process of integrating knowledge and skills. In France, however, teachers and administrations are asked to place the skills above the grades. Since the reforms of high schools, we even see the controls continue to take a prominent place in obtaining the baccalaureate.

Nevertheless, “the French teachers coming to integrate the system are not trained or do not seek enough to train themselves to these new typically Scandinavian methods,” explains Aurore Tondelier, a college professor.

We are facing a brutal change of era in Education, where past and future coexist and bring their share of contradiction.

Should we stop Grading?

Grades are more and more questioned. Some movements such as Teachers Throwing Out Grades propose to simply stop grading or reform the process.

It is true, grades do indeed exist throughout the learning cycles, in elementary school, high school, university, professional life, so it would be difficult to stop everything, nevertheless, reviewing their importance or even the number of graded assessments may seem interesting!

In Finland, learners receive 0 grades before the age of 18, so…

Assessing is a pedagogical exercise that requires the same effort as building a course. Also, while it has been clearly proven that varying course formats is constructive for engagement and active learning, varying assessment formats may be too.

Peer assessment, evaluation and traditional grading, self-grading, project assessment, positioning test, learning report etc. These are all formats to use through the same learning cycle. The problem, of course, is that it requires more commitment from the teaching team, professors or trainers. This is why continuing education for them turns out to be essential.

(Better) Contextualize the assessment and the grade

One of the most important factors is the context of the introduction of a grade or an exam. In fact, according to Svetlana Meyer, scientific manager at Didask and a researcher in cognitive science, the behaviour of the trainers and the context in which the evaluation is given determine the learner’s performance at first, but above all his relationship with the idea of assessing in a more global way.

It is therefore up to the trainer to relax the atmosphere or to clarify it so that there is no perceived trap or threat for the learner. “If we are in a benevolent context, with trainers who value progress, who are not judging, and if we offer to learners a test presented as a diagnostic whose data are only at the disposal of the learner, the assessment will not give birth to a perception of threat, “says Svetlana Meyer; we can say that the learner will be more comfortable, more honest with his knowledge, his experience and will transcribe it better on a given test.

When we take into account the importance of context and perception, we realize very quickly that today, we are still far from an ideal climate for learners. A notable pressure is placed on the latter, who must at all costs reach an ever-higher score to rise in a social hierarchy afterwards.

It’s a system thing. Reintroducing the wolves in Yellowstone eventually gave a dramatic positive boost to the biodiversity of the park and eventually even changed the course of the rivers. In the case of assessments, a small habit, a context, a sentence, a posture can change the whole system and the view of the learner has about her/his learning!