Tuesday, March 3, 2015

From The Pitt News. Fewer tests, more feedback: Reexamining college grading.

Tests come with stress and are notoriously inaccurate at gauging a student’s knowledge of a subject. Researchers have linked sustained mental stress to multiple health issues, like sleep problems, depression and eating disorders. According to the National College Health Assessment, one-third of college students in the past 12 months had difficulty functioning because of depression, while half said they felt overwhelming anxiety.

Professors, especially in non-humanities departments, which often rely on highly consequential exams more than multiple papers for grading, should understand these realities and attempt to provide a less mentally taxing grading system for their students. They should put less priority on exams and more priority on homework and weekly quizzes.



  1. And I do put priority on homework, but since the little darlings CHEAT so goddamn much, we'll still have exams, which I can supervise.

  2. less mentally taxing? Seriously?? And how will that work when they leave college? Will they be able to tell their boss, "Sorry, I can't finish these two assignments on time, it's too mentally taxing!"? Can they tell their aging parents, "Sorry, you can't have health issues now, it';s mentally taxing!"? Will they tell their kids "Sorry, you can't have problems now because it'll make me unhappy."??

    rethinking tests because they may be a poor measuring device is one thing, but abandoning them because some snowflake can't handle some pressure? Idiots...

  3. The linked article is a bit more long-winded and lighter on supporting evidence than it should be for the point it's trying to make. I counted at least three citations about stress, but only one about assessment strategy.

    The column's title calls for fewer tests, but it is important to note that in the cited study by Imam, quizzes did not substitute for tests, i.e., the course still used the same number of high-stakes tests (if I've read the paper correctly, albeit quickly), with quizzes being additional work. In the sections they were used, quizzes counted for only up to 1/6 the course grade.

    As Imam acknowledges and supports with citation, students consider quizzes to be 'busy work' and rebel against them; my experience corroborates this. Morgenstern, the author of the linked column, does not address that point.

    Quizzes are a good way to get both formative and summative feedback more regularly, and when students take them seriously, they help keep the students current with the course, which can improve performance on the high-stakes tests. It's more work for the teaching staff, but this can be balanced against the work involved in remediating failing students.

  4. Oh, for fuck's sake.

    Do you know how students feel about low-stakes assessments? Like they're busywork.

    They have been trained since early childhood through high school that the only thing that matters is the test. And the tests are now so important, the little darlings can often take them multiple times until they pass. The schools call this "demonstration of proficiency"--

    I have plenty of early low-stakes assignments in my writing courses, but somehow, still 25% of my students are failing. What the fuck do I do now?

    1. Er ... fail them?

      I have shortened my exams and hold more of them and drop the worst, because I understand about the test anxiety thing. And the student seem to appreciate this adjustment. But like MA&M I need to make them do some of their own work to have any idea what they are actually, individually capable of.

    2. Yes, they're dropping like flies around here, which is good for me because then I can spend my time helping the students who WANT my feedback and help.

  5. This one crazy trick can lower exam stress: study so that you know your shit.

    1. That would, indeed, work, I believe.

      Also, in addition to the considerations mentioned in the article (regular feedback, preferably substantive feedback on substantive work, really is helpful, but the ability to offer it is definitely limited by the number of students for whom the teacher is responsible), isn't it likely that whatever class activities are heavily-enough weighted in the final grade to offer students an incentive to complete them will, pretty much definition, become the ones students find stressful?

      Maybe learning is supposed to be stressful, at least to some extent? Perish the thought.

    2. Church.

      I've told my students similar. The number one cause of stress on the exam is not being sufficiently prepared for it. Also, almost anything worth having is going to require some actual effort.