What is the point?

cheering crowd

Cheering Crowd by Michael Streat

The win! The cheering crowd, the champion cup, your team won! How do you know?

EASY. Look at the score board.

Is the educational game to determine the winners and losers so we can “fairly” award the victors?
Is learning an event that can produce data with mathematical accuracy?

Point Collection Culture

Point collection is both pervasive and invasive in school culture; assessments (tests, quizzes, assignments etc.) are designed to maximize the efficiency of point harvesting and not necessarily to provide relevant information around learning. Point collection, more than any other consideration in high schools, determines the selection of the summative assessment tool. Learning in high school happens in spite of point collection but not as a result of, or guided by, point collection (the main form of assessment in play in high schools).

Points are the currency of value and are what students work to acquire.

Students often see learning as a waste of energy as it may inhibit maximum point acquisition. Many students become desensitized to recognizing or identifying what learning feels like after being exposed to point allocation for non-learning activities over long periods of time. Point allocation for worksheet completion, word counts or even the wearing of a team jersey on spirit day, informs students that they should concern themselves with mastering point acquisition over learning strategies. Overall, points carry clout and value in the school setting and trump learning.

Point Driven Mindsets

Teachers in the name of efficiency are driven to collect as many points as possible in the shortest period of time. Points (and the collection of) are used primarily to determine how effectively the teacher transferred a fixed body of knowledge to the student (focused on what the teacher has taught). Point collection does not describe the student’s conceptual development of a subject and is limited to the highly prescribed curriculum. Most assessments reveal what a student does not know rather than reveal where students have mastered. The common student laments “I understood topic X perfectly but it wasn’t on the test”, “I studied all the wrongs things” and “But you never even taught us that!” all speak to this perspective. As points are deducted from students this that will determine the students overall average in a course, the focus avoiding mistakes at all costs.

Essays, projects and tests are often given to students with the “I need to collect marks” mentality as raspberries in season that need to be harvested in haste before the birds get to them. Rather than the consideration of the student’s learning and progress as the deciding factor, a pre-set date for harvest dictates when a student will have the chance to acquire points.  The school calendar dictates harvest dates and not the progress of the child.

Does this in any way improve the next crop of raspberries?

Point Driven Strategies

Over the course of their school careers, students develop highly sophisticated point acquisition strategies to succeed. These strategies generally reward students who are socially well-connected and those who know how to negotiate. Students who are willing to hound the teacher often benefit from more points (this speaks to personality rather than mastery of content).

Knowledge or understanding of content beyond material that will be tested is deemed “useless.” The common refrain “Will this be on the test?” speaks to this mindset. Students want and demand from teachers perfectly worded answers which are easy to mimic and memorize in order guarantee point acquisition.

Demonstration of learning is done so as to avoid error; errors are permanently costly in an averaged point acquisition set up. Evaluation is separated from the learning process and has nothing to do with the student themselves. “What did I get?” is the most commonly asked question of the classroom teacher instead of: What did I learn?; How can I improve?; Can you help me figure this out?

Students are routinely given the message that they should trust a number over what they feel and know about themselves as learners. “I thought I knew it better than that” reflects a student ability to self-access which is ignored in a scantron world “Well that’s what the bubble machine score showed us.” Regardless of wording, nuance or interpretation of questions, the scantron is given absolute authority over determining the student’s learning or lack there of.

The end game

What is in fact our end game in education? When our students exit the building in their final year with their school record what do we hope that record speaks of and speaks to about that student? When parents receive their child’s report card at the end of the semester and this is the only piece of information that they will receive about their son or daughter what do we want the piece of paper to communicate about this child?

At the moment report cards are the end game that drive the cattle home so to speak, all roads lead to report cards. When we work back from these it explains and decodes many of our schools habits and mindsets. Final exams, exam periods, and midterms exist in many cases to create and justify a final letter grade.

What do we want to be able to communicate in regards to student learning? What are we hoping to convey? Who is it for? Who is to benefit?

Do we as educators have a moral imperative to consider and begin to advocate for assessment that empowers learning?

Resources:

Looking for feedback: Assessment & Grading Guide

MIDDLE-CLASS KIDS BENEFIT FROM ‘PUSHING’ FOR TEACHER HELP, RESEARCH SUGGESTS

‘Money reduces trust’ in small groups, study shows

It’s Time to Stop Averaging Grades

Grading Practices that Inhibit Learning

Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading

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5 thoughts on “What is the point?

  1. Yeah, it’s all about points. Measuring. Quantifying.

    Lots of questions at the end there. So it doesn’t look the points system is going away anytime soon, and let’s not dump the baby with the bath water. A compromise that works within the system is to somehow find a better way of awarding the points. Oral exams in Math? Make them explain everything. How else can we quantify the value in evaluation?

    Then think about the things where assigning points is pointless…
    Art, Music, Wisdom, Potential, Caring, Happiness. But we can still appreciate their value. But how to measure it?

    Let me know when you come up with an answer, and I’ll grade it on a scale from 1 to 10.

  2. Well done , as usual, Carolyn, you are are terrific educational writer. I also understand, from the grapevine, that you are a beloved teacher. Sadly, harshly, these two are not always the synonymous. Dr. Suzuki may not be a great teacher and be a great scientist. Measuring, assessing, counting, anything- cards, stocks, wealth, learning, it is always a tough task because it involves a value judgement by someone- somehow at some moment in time. Who makes the team? Who gets the scholarship or service award? Who gets elected, even? Points, measures are always values loaded. Regardless of how technically, ethically, or pedagogically we may tuned, we will fail some audience. With this point of view in mind, it is not hopeless less I preach but excitement that we have educators in Kelowma ( BC ) sharing insights and provocations in how we measure success, achievement… Even wise billionaires like Warren Buffet will tell us, money isn’t everything! I’m just thrilled to follow your blog and know you are one of us! 🙂 cheers, bravo!

    • Thanks Al, I appreciate you thoughtful comment, support and enthusiasm!! It is great to hear this idea makes
      sense to you. There is a long road ahead towards change in education, but I think in BC we are pretty lucky (despite our challenges) as we are well on the way to creating some real change momentum. Best you you and hope you fall is going well 🙂
      c

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