Assessing assessment

Mike Davies

According to Dr. Charles Webber, professor and dean of the TRU faculty of human, social and educational development, educational assessment needs adjusting (see article HERE).

He says that assessment — that is, assigning marks to students for their work — should be based solely on the content of their work, because otherwise you’re not assessing their knowledge, but their diligence, dedication, time management skills, etc.

I tend to agree with this, but I do see some problems with that assertion, as well.

I’ve always loved when my professors have open-ended deadlines for assignments.

“Whenever you get them to me as long as I can get my marks in to the school by the time I need to,” is always my favourite deadline. It gives students a chance to truly show their teacher what they know about the subject rather than demonstrate their ability to regurgitate information onto paper in an allotted amount of time.

And I completely agree that deducting marks for late work is not assessing the student’s knowledge, but instead assessing their time-management skills — the assessment of which is not the job of a statistics (or pretty much any other) professor.

The problem I see with this assertion that the content and nothing else should be what is assessed is this: Where does “content” end and “anything else” begin?

For example, if it’s not an English class that you’re doing an assignment for, should you be able to hand in your assignment in any language you want? Your teacher isn’t supposed to be judging you on your English ability, after all.

Or if you do choose English as the language you use for your paper, should you be required to use proper English sentence structure and punctuation? As long as you’re showing that you have understood the topic you’re discussing, it shouldn’t matter unless it’s for a composition or grammar course, right?

Okay, this is stretching it a bit — but that’s the point. Where’s the line?

I’ve never been a fan of conforming to citation rules (MLA, CPA, etc) when writing papers.
I think as long as it’s clear who I’m referencing and where that reference can be found, what does it matter if the periods are in the right places in the bibliographical entry, or I italicize the proper part of my “works cited” list?

Because following directions is part of the assignment, that’s why. Following directions is part of the “required learning” of the course.

If the description of the assignment is, “Show me what you’ve learned this semester,” and that’s all it says, then by all means, make a collage out of magazine clippings and fingerpaint if you want — assuming that’s what you think will show your teacher what you’ve learned in their class.

They can’t penalize you for handing it in late, or not using proper citations, or using white glue and crayons if they haven’t told you what they expect the assignment to contain.

Which is why assignment descriptions generally say things like “I expect you to use proper English structure and grammar, proper citation style according to MLA guidelines…” and they don’t just say, “Do whatever you want.”

Which is why I don’t complain if the syllabus for a class says, “all late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 5 per cent per day.”

They’ve told me the rules, and part of the “content” of the class that I need to show I’ve learned is that I read the instructions.

Of course, I also know that I probably won’t take another class taught by that professor.