Tomy Ward Education
Education for Critical Times
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Saturday, 04 May 2013 17:44

Evaluation and Grading

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bell curve
In educational establishment around the world, the process of grading - of evaluating student work - has been captured by a technical rationality that is driven by statistics rather than inherent quality. professors the world over areT pressured to make their evaluations consistent with the statistics of the bell curve (above), irrespective of the actual quality of the work. If a professor dares (as I once did) to give all of his or her students an "A" because the quality of work in a class was consistently exceptional, he or she courts serious intitutionalised academic sanctions. I was told to regtrade my stuidents to fit the statistical norms, and threatened with academic censure and possible termination of my contract. It was only wghen I threatened to sue the university for qyuestuioning my professional judgement that the University relented. I was made "redundant" six months later.. The role played by the grading process in education is ubiquitous and self-defeating. Every teacher knows the dilemmas faced at grading and/or report time. In this article I will interrogate the grading process in critical depth and will propose an alternative way of evaluating academic work.

I have theorised about the corrosive impact of competition in education and in everyday life, showing how the competitive ethic is counter-productive and corrosive, and that it is deeply implicated in the maintenance of regimes of exploitation and of global capitalism.  I suggested there that if we are to take seriously the impending environmental and economic crises that are threatening civilisation, we needed to abandon the competitive ethic in education as a matter of extreme urgency.

In addition, I have elsewhere investigated the role played by Behaviouristic ideologies in the process of student evaluation and have attempted to demonstrate how these ideologies are manifest in extrinsic reward systems which do not address issues of “deep learning”.  I have suggested in contrast that these extrinsic reward systems are responsible for the formation of student identities that are characterised by quiescence, conformity and subservience to authority, and that, together with the ethos of competition they constitute perhaps a pervasive obstacle to environmental, social and cultural transformation and healing. The implication of all of this is that at all levels of Education we need urgently to introduce systems of non-competitive learning that are based upon intrinsic, rather than extrinsic reward systems. In this essay, I will describe some of the issues that need to be addressed in the creation of such a system, and will briefly outline examples from teaching practice in higher education that have been tried and tested .

These projects were carried out using the so-called Ward Method of creative consensus building which has also been described elsewhere.  There, I advocated and described the basis for a methodology to be used in the context of critical pedagogy praxis. Some authors have argued against the use or application of method in that context, maintaining that it stifles the free flow of critical discourse and circumscribes possible dialogical challenges to the form and content of the learning encounter. I have argued on the contrary that the use of an appropriate method can be the basis for stimulating and sustaining just such critiques in a creative project. The essential issue in critical pedagogy remains one of power, and as long as the methodology in question requires and ensures that power is distributed evenly among the teacher-learner participants, then there is nothing to fear and much to gain from its application.
In addition to the power that flows and ebbs throughout any successful group praxis, there remains another, essential, seat of power – perhaps the most powerful and significant that must be addressed for transformative education to take place – the power to evaluate, judge and grade the project outcomes and the work of individual participants. In a normative educational setting, this power resides exclusively with the teacher, and his or her power to grade is fiercely defended by the institutions of education in which they work – from kindergarten to University. In most educational institutions in the modern world it is expressly forbidden for students to evaluate their own work, or for teachers to allow students to influence the grading process. This is largely because educational standards are set with the intention of providing willing workers with assessed minimum qualifications to fit the employment needs and opportunities in the “outside” world – a world that requires recognisable, measurable and risk-free standards. Despite the modern progressive rhetoric about educating to realise personal potential, the real and ultimate goal of educational evaluations is to provide standardised graduates to fit jobs in commerce and industry. 


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