Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Student Learning vs. Student Evaluation

Image: Paul Gooddy /
Is it more important for us as educators to foster learning, or to evaluate our students?  I would bet that the majority of teachers would agree that our primary purpose is to promote learning.  I would hope that teachers prioritize teaching and learning over judging and evaluating, even if our current educational system doesn't.

For this reason, I am often perplexed by the push back on the idea of re-testing students.  I'd love to not give tests and focus on simply assessing student learning without grades, but that's not possible in our current system.  If a student doesn't learn something or tests poorly, isn't it my job to do what I can to remedy that?  Shouldn't I make sure that student learns?  Shouldn't I see this as a sign that I should give them more assistance, re-teach them, or get them some other sort of help?  Wouldn't it be beneficial to that student to have someone demand they actually learn instead of letting them go through school without doing so?

I've heard the arguments against re-testing, and I am yet to hear one that makes sense to me.

Re-testing allows kids to be lazy.  If they failed it's because they didn't study.

Perhaps the student's poor initial grade was due to lack of studying.  I refuse to use their laziness as an excuse to not fullfil my mission as a teacher.  It is my job to help them learn, not to punish them for laziness.  Then again, maybe they weren't lazy.  Maybe they didn't study because they were wondering where their next meal was coming from.  Or whether Mom would come home drunk that night.  Or whether their Dad's parole hearing was going to go well.  Or whatever.  It is not my job to judge.  It is my job to promote learning.

There's no re-testing in the "real world"

Really?  You don't think that doctors learn from their mistakes?  Or that teachers don't have lessons that fail miserably?  Or that artists never create works that are less than their best?  Or that those who work in sales never have days where they don't close a deal?  Or that lawyers never lose a case?  Life is full of failure.  Learning from one's mistakes is much more important than avoiding failure.

If you allow a kid to re-test and they get a higher grade than one who doesn't, that's not fair.

As I said above, assessing learning is much more important to me than assigning a grade.  "Assessment" and "grading" are not interchangeable terms.  When we use them as such, we are implying to students that assigning a score to them is more important than what they've learned.  They start to jump through hoops to get praise and good grades instead of making connections because that's what we are training them to do. Sure, the practice of re-testing might make it harder for kids (or their parents) to feel superior to others because they are a "straight A student", but is that really a bad thing?  Maybe the school can save some money on the "My kid is an honor student and yours is dumb" bumper stickers.

There's no time to re-test.  I've got to cover X, Y and Z.  Plus, what would I do with all the other kids?

There's no doubt that having a classroom where you are meeting the needs of all the students is difficult. It can be done, though.  I've had many classes where I'm sitting with a small group of kids who need more help while other groups of kids who already have proven they understand the topic are recording a podcast about it, developing a narrated slide show, using web 2.0 apps to produce content for our wiki, or sharing their learning in other ways.  The best part is that the content being created by the groups who already understand can be used as a way to study for the kids in the group who need more help that night.  Had I not taken the extra time to re-teach and allow for re-testing, some of my students would have never learned what they needed to, and others would have never had the opportunity to teach it, which deepened their understanding.  To me, not doing this in order to "cover" other topics that my students may or may not learn before moving on to "cover" something else seems destined to leave gaps in understanding for most kids.  

I guess it all comes down to how you view teaching.  If we are the deliverers of instruction, and it is the students' responsibility to learn, then there is no reason to re-test kids.  It's a nice, convenient way to look at things because it takes all the responsibility for failing students and places it upon students and their parents.  

Of course, if my job is to teach students and make sure they learn, not re-teaching and re-testing doesn't make sense.  Sure, there will still be students who struggle.  Maybe there are factors outside of my control that are preventing them from learning.  But taking this point of view ensures that their struggles won't be because of me.


  1. "It is not my job to judge. It is my job to promote learning....Learning from one's mistakes is much more important than avoiding failure....Assessing learning is much more important to me than assigning a grade." Key points, Mike! More and more I think "non-graded" is the direction that truly helps students learn.

  2. Beth,

    More and more, I find myself feeling that grades are hurting our students. We assign grades for parents, us as teachers, the school to be able to rank kids, colleges, etc. They have no educational value to the kids. Research has proven that kids need feedback in order to learn best. Feedback and grades are not synonymous. Too often we hand them back a "75" and that's the end of it. Feedback (from the teacher, from comments on their blog, from peers, etc.) would be much more beneficial to them. At some point we need to understand as a system that our primary responsibility lies in teaching students, not pleasing parents, newspapers, and politicians. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. Violeta T. SmithMay 16, 2017 at 8:43 PM

    Yes, both types of the education way are good for the students but the first step is always for the learning. You should teach everything that students want to get superiorpaper but the evaluation is the lengthy type of the education. You give the good information on this topic.

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