Learning Assessments: What’s the Point of Grading Children’s Work?
I’ve been thinking about learning assessments lately. One reason this topic has been on my mind is because of a recent forum discussion that I took part in. Someone had complained that schools were no longer giving F’s and that this was another indication of the poor quality of public education. If the child’s work deserves it, give them F’s, some demanded! Other parents agreed that withholding a failing grade was a lousy way to prepare kids for the “real world”. I do not agree with that viewpoint and I said so in my posts.
Another reason that I’ve been mulling it over is that my job as a homeschool facilitator requires me to assign grades to my homeschooling students. Even as a classroom teacher, I have struggled with learning assessments, but I find it even more challenging as a facilitator when I am not the person spending the time teaching the child.
A Frustrating Topic
I have tossed this topic around for decades and it never fails to upset and challenge me. As a mother, I want to always tell my kids how amazing they are and what a wonderful job they have done, but I know from experience that my words don’t always reflect the truth. Sometimes they haven’t done an awesome job. As both a mother and a teacher, I also know that I have sometimes used bad grades to penalize children, to get even for whatever they have done to irritate me. I also know that there is an ugly part of me that loves pouncing on spelling, punctuation and grammar errors and I need to keep the safety on my red pen. I get a certain satisfaction from finding and circling every tiny error that I can find on a page. I know from experience that this does not instill a love of learning nor a desire to try again, yet like a addict, I continue to do it.
Teachers Hate Report Cards and Parents Dislike Marking Papers
Ask any classroom teacher about report cards and you will hear a groan. I’ve never met one who enjoys writing them. Ask any homeschooler how she feels about marking her children’s work and you will likely hear just as big a groan, especially when it comes to subjects like language arts and social studies, those areas that don’t typically have right and wrong answers. Marking a math test is one thing; grading a short story is a completely different matter.
More Questions Than Answers
There are so many questions and I am the first to admit that I do not have all the answers. Why do we assess? What, how much and how do we assess? Do we give grades? Do we use percentages, letter grades, descriptors, comments, anecdotal notes? Should we ever give a failing grade? What is the purpose of an F? How do we determine a grade? Is it objective or subjective? Do the kids know how they are being graded or do we keep our criteria a secret and try to catch them “in the act”? How meaningful and valuable are grades? Do they make a difference? What exactly is the point?
Let’s Keep the Discussion Rolling
These are all questions that we ask as we try to wrestle this beast called learning assessments. I have been gleaning a lot on this topic lately in future articles, I will be sharing my thoughts. I would love to hear comments from you. Should homeschoolers even consider grading their children’s work? What do you think is the point? Or do you think there is one?
Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. Visit her website at HomeschoolWell.com.