Assessment in the Classroom – Part 5

August 1st, 2016

Watch for Students Gaming the System

The system I have described in my previous posts on this subject works well for most students, most of the time. However, it comes with some gotchas to watch out for. The biggest problem with my three Fs approach is that if I am not careful, I may have students at the low end of a passing grade slip through without really gaining the competency that they need to move on to the next course.

Occasionally, I will have students who are earning an A- in a course argue for an A. If they can make a somewhat compelling argument, they can have their A. I am not worried about those students, and I have no interest in pitching a battle over three points on assignment “X”. I appreciate students who advocate for them selves. I think that is a good skill to have in life, so I don’t mind rewarding it.

The students at the very bottom of the spectrum, the ones who don’t show up, or never turn anything in, don’t take up much of my time. They wash out on their own.

I will, however, closely monitor those students who are on the cusp of passing. I will slow down when grading their completion projects and look at them more carefully. These are the students, the ones in the 50% to 70% range, that I want to make sure are getting what they need from the activities. These students take up about 70% of my time when assessing work.

Then there are students who know how to play the points game, and will do enough to get the points they need to pass, without ever actually learning anything. In the long run they are only hurting themselves with this strategy, but in the short run, I have learned that I have to watch them, and I tell them that I am watching them. I may be able to bring them around to actually doing the work, if they know I am not easily fooled.

The good news is that this is generally a very small segment of students, and they are not too difficult to identify. But it is a case where the fast part of the three Fs is attenuated a bit.

Fair != Same

This is a tough lesson to learn in life, and not any easier in the classroom. In an ideal world, we can treat everyone the same, and assume we are being fair. It is not an ideal world. We are likely to have groups of students with diverse sets of skill levels. We are likely to have students with varying disabilities, which manifest themselves across a wide spectrum of severity. Different students have different needs, and there is a lot we can do on the curriculum side to address these varying needs.

On the assessment side, strategies for addressing the widely varying needs of students are more limited. However one strategy I have found that really helps on the assessment end is to drop one or two lowest assignments for students. Telling students that I will drop their two lowest grades eases their concerns about getting every single point. Some students, who are grade conscious, will worry about an assignment that they just didn’t get to for some reason. This helps alleviate those fears, and it brings some flexibility into the grading system.

If there are enough assignments, dropping one or two will not significantly skew the grades.

Another strategy that can work when doing bigger projects, assessed with qualitative rubrics, is to have an alternate version of the project, geared to students with a different set of skills. This can be tricky, because both versions of the assignment should be fairly equal in terms of amount of time required, and learning outcomes, however, when done well, I have seen this work.

In the next post, we will look at a few final considerations related to assessment in the classroom that I think are important. Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

Check out the other posts in this series

Part 1
Introduction and Setting the Stage

Part 2
The 3 F’s of Assessment & Meeting Students Where They Are

Part 3
The Tools for Assessment

Part 4
Micro and Macro Approaches
The Heart of My Assessment System

Part 5 < You are here
Gaming the System and Fair != Same

Part 6
Real Deadlines & Extra Credit

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