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Which Is Worse -- Test Scores, Or Class Grades?


Is standardized testing, like democracy, the worst of all forms of accountability except for all others that have been tried? The argument continues. But a recent study profiled in Inside Higher Ed suggests that standardized tests are at least more accurate predictors of future performance than that teacher favorite, class grades.

"The last year hasn’t been a good one for the standardized testing industry, what with SAT scoring errors and more colleges dropping the test as a requirement," begins the story (A Defense of Standardized Tests). "But on Thursday, the journal Science published a study backing the reliability of standardized testing in graduate and professional school admissions."


Teachers often use factors other than knowledge of the material being studied when assigning class grades. Class participation, neatness, homework, etc. often have little or nothing to do with the student's understanding of the subject matter. Homework especially can be a confounder when weighted heavily, or at all in class grades.
Interesting thoughts on this at: http://www.smartboysbadgrades.com/ and in the book "The case against homework,How homework is hurting our children and what we can do about it" by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish.

Letter grades and test scores are equally ineffective measurements of future achievement.

The best assessment would be a teacher narrative highlighting the student's achievements, strenghts, and weaknesses. Yes, these would be highly subjective, but at least they would provide a more complete picture of a student's accomplishments.

Colleges would choose future applicants not according to GPA's and test scores but rather by the original research young people have conducted, business enterprises young people have initiated, pieces of writing young people have authored, community activism young people organized, ect...

Switching to teacher narratives would completely change the school paradigm. Schools would automatically become more personalized and the emphasis would be on "doing" rather than memorizing and regurgitating. Paper and pencil tests would be replaced with authentic projects that benefit the larger community.

It's already happening at a number of elite private schools. The only public schools with the guts to do this are the Big Picture schools founded by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor in Providece, Rhode Island.

Teacher grades and, worse, teacher narratives are at least half the reason education reform and No Child Left Behind realized their level of demand among the business community and state legislatures. The business community especially got tired of interviewing high school *graduates* lacking in the basic skills necessary for entry-level positions in the work force. Teachers, in most instances, should not be taken to the woodshed for wanting their students to do well, thereby awarding inflated grades to youngsters they've become close to over the course of a school year. However, that's precisely why impartial standardized tests are much more effective in the objective determination of a student's actual school performance.

Graduates lack "basic skills" because the work they do in school is often unrelated to the world of work. We're assessing memorization and conformity, when what we should be emphasizing in rigor, self-initiative, creativity, and interdisciplinary learning.

When a child is around 12, if not earlier, the classroom is entirely inappropriate for real learning, except in short-term cases where a specific skill needs to be emphasized. Young people should be spending their days engaged in meaningful apprenticeships that provide real life context to their previous studies of mathematics, biology, and english.

Think how much better learning could be if you spent 3 days apprenticing, and two days working with your teachers structuring learning needs around your real-world experiences. You could spend one semester working for a federal judge, and the next as a carpenter's assistant. Then young people would actually graduate with a knowledge of the strengths and interests.

This type of real-world learning cannot be assessed through grades or test scores. Narratives and references are the way to go. By the way, that's how the adult world works. NO ONE in the business world cares about my grades or test scores. They care about my initiative, productivity, creativity and my reputation.

Why should it be any different for our young people?

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