A B C D E F-eedback?


In everyday life, if something is broken you fix it. Yet throughout my blogs over the last four weeks I have highlighted the disadvantages of grades, and how the education system is reluctant to change its outdated assessment techniques. Due to the saliency of grades within the current education system, it can often seem like there is no alternative. However solutions have been suggested within research, and should be considered before dismissing this much needed pedagogical change.

One of the key issues with grading is that for low ability students, constantly achieving low grades can be very demotivating (Meece, Anderman & Anderman, 2006). An alternative system that tackles the motivation problem is minimum grading (Carey & Carifo, 2012). Regardless of the quality of work, students never obtain extremely low grades, as a predetermined minimum grade is used by the marker (e.g. 50/100). The aim is to prevent demotivation and negative emotions in low ability students, which will in turn encourage these students to try again and recover from their failures. The main criticism of this method is that minimum grading may cause unfair grade inflation for struggling students; however research by Carey & Carifo (2012) suggests this is not the case. In fact, these students were still not reaching expected academic achievements. This method also only benefits low ability students, and as discussed in my blog last week, high ability students also experience the negatives of grading. Thus, due to the minimal benefit on a selective number of students, it is questionable as to whether this method is effective enough to be nationally implemented.

There are also ‘maintenance’ grade systems. This is where students start with the maximum grade, and then lose points as they complete graded work (Docan, 2006). Research suggests that students are slightly more motivated and satisfied when ‘maintaining’ their grade rather than ‘earning’ it through traditional methods. This may be due to the unfamiliarity with the unused ‘maintenance’ system, and Docan (2006) suggested as familiarity increases with this new system, motivation may once again decrease.  

Methods such as these do provide alternative solutions to grading, which can be more effective than the traditional use of letters. However, if students are distinguished from one another through categorisation into groups, it is technically still grading (Kohn, 2011). Regardless of the type of grading system, students will always be extrinsically motivated and stressed by grades (Docan, 2006). Therefore education shouldn’t focus on modifying grading; it should turn over a new leaf and develop a more effective alternative.

Alongside our grades at University, we also often obtain feedback. This provides us information on how to improve our work. Lipnevick & Smith (2008) found that feedback plays a more vital role in improving work than grades do. Providing detailed feedback instead of grades (rather than alongside it) was found to be the most effective for students. This is because if a student is provided both, they tend to remember the grade rather than the feedback (Butler, 1988). It is also important that the feedback provided is descriptive, rather than evaluative, in order to prevent social comparisons (Lipnevick & Smith, 2008). Social comparison with others is what makes students competitive and extrinsically motivated, preventing them from focusing on what is actually important in education: their own learning.  Alternatively, feedback increases the likelihood of self-evaluation (Butler,1988) which is likely to facilitate progression and learning in a non-competitive way.

The main criticism of using only feedback is how can jobs, universities, parents and students themselves determine the student’s overall performance? The solution is portfolios, which can be created alongside qualitative assignment feedback to highlight the students’ abilities. This could contain a personal statement, examples of assignments, and references (Kohn, 1999; Kohn, 2011). This method would provide a lot more insight into an individual student’s ability than a reductionist grade does.

Evergreen College in Washington is a real life example of using narrative evaluations instead of traditional grades to assess students. The students are also expected to self-evaluate, which is then combined with the staffs’ assessments to create an overall, extensive review. The statistics produced from Evergreen College help diminish the concern that future employers won’t know a students’ performance through qualitative feedback, as 78% of graduates from Evergreen College were employed within a year of graduating. I cannot help but question, if one educational institution can successfully implement this change, why can’t the rest of them?

As students ourselves, we are well aware of students’ resistance to change (Kohn, 1999). Therefore change within education needs to be gradual. The first step is for education to ‘dilute grades’ (Kohn, 2011), so that the detrimental impact of grades is minimized now rather than later. This can be done through providing descriptive feedback for in-class assignments instead of grades, and only grading what is deemed necessary. An example of this ‘dilution’ is in our Science of Education module, as we are not graded for our talks. Where grades are still used, the student should be allowed to discuss the grade with the teacher, encouraging the student to self-evaluate their learning and be actively involved in the learning process (Kohn, 2011). Teachers alone cannot successfully change the educational system, and an active involvement from students is required to produce optimal change (Wah, 2007).

The education system in the UK has proposed a change for grading (The Guardian, 2013). As of 2017, students will be graded with numbers from 1-9. The reason behind this change was to allow more differentiation between able students. However, this change is not tackling any of the issues I have raised within my blogs. Students’ complex work is still reduced to a single mark, the markers’ experience will still influence the grades, and students will still be externally motivated by a tangible number. The proposed change may alleviate difficulties for educators when differentiating students, particularly when applying for higher education, but should this be our focus? How can we begin to implement effective change in education, when educators choose to ignore the science and base new practices on previous, unsuccessful ones?

Perhaps feedback is the answer. Rather than fixing grades, maybe we need to discard them entirely. 


8 responses »

  1. So here’s my question: I agree that collapsing months of work, improvement and evaluation into one letter is a poor measure (not to mention its lack of validity). But as I have participated in this module, I have been very grade oriented, because I value a first class degree. And because I have strived to focus and achieve that goal, regardless of my grade, I have talked to Jesse, I have compared my work to others who have achieved high grades, and whereas some blogs might just carry descriptive accounts of cause and effect relations, my writing has been lead to evaluate Jesse’s paradigm, and compel me to align myself for or against it. In short, more than just information, this module has changed my beliefs, arguably for the better.

    Now I ask: was it grading that did this, or was it some kind of ‘sucking up’ effect? The Rigor/Relevance framework (International Center for Leadership in Education, 2012) has been described by Daggett (2005) as having some relevance. Covering four ‘quadrants’ measuring application and knowledge, it is reported that on top of knowledge acquisition, there is also application, assimilation and adaptation which must be included in teaching pedagogy. When the system measures quadrant D skills (adaptation) learning becomes rigorous and relevant (yet interestingly, not necessarily difficult). So I submit to you that grading can insight rigorous and deep learning. I think the individual difference factor that affects the success of such is the student’s level of desire and persistence towards the proposed outcome.

    Daggett, W. R. (2005). Achieving academic excellence through rigor and relevance. Retrieved October, 30, 2007 from http://www.dupage.k12.il.us/pdf/121306%20Achieving%20Academic%20Excellence%20through%20Rigor%20and%20Relevance.pdf

    International Centre for Leadership in Education, (2012). See http://www.leadered.com/rrr.html

  2. I agree with both of you that grades are an unfair way of assessing students knowledge, especially when derived from an exam. A score on a memory test is not a representative of knowledge and learning therefore why is it used as such? There is also little feedback that can be provided from multiple choice exams other than right or wrong.

    There are two main types of feedback (Ronayne, 2002); formative or summative, the former involving detailed personal feedback aiding the individual to improve, whereas summative feedback is often merely in the form of grades. Quite rightly summative grading is discouraged as it’s not always an accurate representation on ability, instead it is often used as a tool for comparison and can have negative effects on self esteem etc.

    However, I appreciate the time constraints with providing every student with detailed formative description on how to improve, and the demand for accountability and grades within the current education system. Therefore perhaps instead of abolishing grades, they could be used to our advantage. Students could be provided with a grade and encouraged to use self-regulation to attribute how and why they received this grade. Using self-evaluative methods students could enhance their learning process by engaging with the evaluation criteria and identifying their own flaws, Klenoiwski (1995) demonstrated that students reflecting on their own work, rather than having the teacher provide all the feedback provided an extra dimension, allowing students to have a more active role and take responsibility of their learning.

    Klenowski, V. (1995). Student self‐evaluation processes in student‐centred teaching and learning contexts of Australia and England. Assessment in Education, 2(2), 145-163.

    Ronayne, M. (2002). Marking and feedback. Journal issue, (2).

  3. A solution might be the introduction for portfolios. In creative subjects, admission to higher courses is not based on the grade, but instead on the quality of the portfolio of that individual.
    The steps in the portfolio development process are: collection, selection, reflection and projection. Portfolios are typically used for creative work, or when students are encouraged to analyse their own work (Danielson & Abrutyn, 1997).

    Stone (1998) investigated student attitudes towards portfolios were used in student teacher training at university. These portfolios were used to document what was learnt in student teaching, and develop self-evaluation skills. They found that the majority of students found them useful and worthwhile. However, it was highlighted that they were time consuming, and due to this, stressful.
    Portfolios can become a powerful tool for encouraging students to take control of their learning, and demonstrate mastery over the subject (Paulson et al., 1991).

    A key idea repeated throughout the above literature, is that portfolios give a fuller representation of the individual’s work. As portfolios develop over time, they illustrate how that person has improved and what path they decided to take in their development.


    Danielson, C., & Abrutyn, L. (1997). An Introduction to Using Portfolios in the Classroom. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1250 N. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-1453.
    Stone, B. A. (1998). Benefits of Portfolios. Teacher Education Quarterly.
    Paulson, F. L., Paulson, P. R., & Meyer, C. A. (1991). What makes a portfolio a portfolio. Educational leadership, 48(5).

  4. I agree with you that grades are a poor method of a assessing a student, and the idea of using feedback as an alternative to grades could work. Dweck (1999) suggested that positive feedback that includes descriptions of the processes of learning, different learning strategies, effort requirements, and the general changeable and controllable nature of learning should help students understand their own abilities and give positive effects to their intrinsic motivation. Meaning, if we give students feedback that teaches them learning strategies and the way people learn, they should be able to adapt and change their own ways of learning, giving them a sense of autonomy and control over their educational live. This will in turn give them higher intrinsic motivation, hopefully motivating them to learn for themselves and not the grade.

    As for the problem of assessing people and how employers would be able to label people as successful. Perhaps it is best to grade students, but not tell them their grade, simply give them positive feedback and methods to improve. Then at the end of their educational lives they will be told their grades, but perhaps this would be too big an event for some people to handle. Just an idea.

    Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise.

  5. I think a potential method of feedback here could be that of peer assessment. Grades can be used throughout this (Liu and Carless, 2006), but some say that they are inefficient as they differ widely from what the markers themselves give, sometimes by up to 60% (Orsmond et al, 1996). Either way, these seem to help our learning, allowing us to receive beneficial advice whilst conducting our learning (Falchikov, 1995). Falchikov goes on to discuss how some students find it difficult to award marks to other students when they are in a close, well established group, however most students found the advice very useful, allowing them to analyse, critique, and reflect upon their work

    Falchikov, N. (1995). Peer feedback marking: developing peer assessment. Programmed Learning, 32(2), 175-187.
    Liu, N. F., & Carless, D. (2006). Peer feedback: the learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279-290.
    Orsmond, P., Merry, S., & Reiling, K. (1996). The importance of marking criteria in the use of peer assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 21(3), 239-250.

  6. The interesting thing about this blog is it manages to utilise a plethora of known psychological research to attack government educational policy, which is pretty creative in my opinion. The use of the grading system allows for divisions to be made between people. I think the most frustrating thing that I find is that someone would be considered as a failure if they didn’t make it in the education system. In truth, the Government wastes resources on trying to educate people who aren’t interested in learning. In the United States, the rate of psychology degrees awarded has increased nine-fold in the past 60 years*1. Do we need nine times as many psychologists as we did in the 1950’s? If not, maybe it is okay to convince people that there are other ways to be successful in society.
    In this light, maybe a grade system should only be implemented for those who want to pursue an education and are passionate about entering University. What if those who were failing schooling were removed from the grading systems and taken to specialist classes where they were given a functional education that taught them about life as opposed to useless educational prospects. I think the fundamental flaw is that the current education system in England and Wales exists only to suit the needs of excelling scholars and casts everybody else out. Is it not more functional for a Government to stop calling a category of people failures, and begin to teach them the necessary skills for coping in modern society? Everybody wants to be good at Math, everybody wants to be literate, and so when we funnel kids through a system that cares more about the performance in the classroom than the children who attend then I think we have a fundamental problem. I don’t think the grading system can be removed, but an alternative solution could be to give people an opt-in, because the current opt-out is one of the reasons for high unemployment*3 and Anti-social behaviour*4 in society. Non-grade*2*5 based interventions could be looked at for people who are not coping within the current system; this may be a way to dilute the current sociological issues surrounding grade based education.

    * 2http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0001879185900156
    *5 http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=0036-6773(197411)83:1%3C49:SIBWIW%3E2.0.CO;2-S

  7. As you have suggested, feedback on assignments is very important in order for students to identify not only improvements to be made, but also the particularly successful aspects of any work (Boud & Falchikov, 1989) and may help increase esteem and confidence in students. I agree that being given a number or a letter to represent hours of hard work, however positive, sometimes just is not enough. Mills and Glover (2006) highlight that feedback should be not only from tutor to student, but also from student to tutor, and student to student- an approach rarely seen in today’s education system.

    Whilst not completely addressing the issues you have raised over the past few weeks about grading, it is possible that peer and self assessment methods may go some way ‘dilute’ the grading dilemmas you have highlighted. There has been considerable research suggesting that student assessment generally can be reliable and an effective means of evaluation (Stefani, 1994). Furthermore it has been found that student assessment skills can be built not only to accurately evaluate work, but also to extend learning (Singh & Terry, 2008).

    Sutherland (n.d.) suggests that whilst self assessment can be extremely effective, student expectations of achievement are often unrealistic, and that in the absence of sufficient ‘training’ students can be dissatisfied with their performance unnecessarily. In this case, ongoing training to enable students to effectively assess work, whether their own work or the work of a peer, may not be easy to implicate, particularly in younger students.

    An alternative to grading, although not necessarily addressing the issue of feedback, is pass-fail grading. In a study with medical students, conducted by White and Fantone (2010) this method was found to ‘level the playing field’ between students with different educational backgrounds, and increase intrinsic motivation for doing work. This can also be seen to address the issue of grades as extrinsic motivators eliminating intrinsic motivation, as highlighted in James’ blog this week (http://jredmondbangor.wordpress.com/).

    Maybe a combination of student assessment with appropriate training and pass-fail grading by tutors could provide a stepping stone to assist a shift to feedback rather than grading alone, and accommodate the interactions between students and tutors which Mills and Glover (2006) praised.

    Boud & Falchikov (1989): http://0-download.springer.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/static/pdf/819/art%253A10.1007%252FBF00138746.pdf?auth66=1385681516_4a6ed0a4bf946f257561a7821a9b0588&ext=.pdf

    Mills & Glover (2006): http://www.open.ac.uk/fast/pdfs/Mills%20and%20Glover.pdf

    Singh & Terry (2008): http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1038&context=ceducom&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.co.uk%2Fscholar%3Fq%3DSutherland%2BThe%2Brole%2Bof%2Bself-assessment%2Bin%2Bmoderating%2Bstudents%25E2%2580%2599%2Bexpectations%26hl%3Den%26as_sdt%3D0%26as_vis%3D1%26oi%3Dscholart%26sa%3DX%26ei%3DkDeVUtf3BuT9ygOi_IJw%26ved%3D0CDAQgQMwAA#search=%22Sutherland%20role%20self-assessment%20moderating%20students%E2%80%99%20expectations%22

    Stefani (1994): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03075079412331382153

    Sutherland (n.d.): http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/resources/database/id420_role_of_%20self-assessment.pdf

    White & Fantone (2010): http://0-download.springer.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/static/pdf/33/art%253A10.1007%252Fs10459-009-9211-1.pdf?auth66=1385685609_ae39ca50a66a9eb9463a9c327c098241&ext=.pdf

  8. This is a great thing to talk about it. Grading is the traditional using of teachers to assess students academic performance. Although grading is a very direct way to show the students performance, it sometimes can’t display the real level of students. Having grade A doesn’t mean you are perfect at all and of course grade F doesn’t mean that you are a bad student as well. According to Lipnevich, A. A., & Smith, J. K. (2008), their literature review showed that some studies found that grading can not increase the students academic performance at all. Similarly, their study showed the same result as the literature review. They found that feedback would increase students’ academic level more effectively. Moreover, they also indicated that the type of feedback play an important role in students academic performance. They discovered that the neutral descriptive feedback would be more effective than evaluative feedback. Flinders University (no date) also noticed that an unusable feedback would not exert any positive effect on students performance.

    Assessment is an effective method for evaluating student’s academic performance. However, it is important to note that the type of assessing method. From the above, we may predict that grading system might be a little bit outmoded. Therefore, adjusting to an efficient system is very important.

    Lipnevich, A. A., & Smith, J. K. (2008). Response to assessment feedback: The effects of grades, praise, and source of information. Princeton, NJ: ETS.

    Flinders University (no date). Feedback to improve student learning. Retrieved 27 November 2013, from http://www.flinders.edu.au/teaching/teaching-strategies/assessment/feedback/

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