The reflections on assessment and grading presented by Kohn and Lui/Noppe-Brandon provide for a different evaluation of potential teaching/learning atmospheres, but I feel like some of the solutions miss the point.
I agree with the primary assertions that grading is often about controlling students and can be detrimental to student development and creativity, but some of the proposed solutions create new problems. How, for instance, is one supposed to discuss student evaluation in “conferences” if a class is 100-300 students large? Additionally, doesn’t the creation of a “negotiation” of asking students to offer up an evaluation on their own grade and decide it in conjuction with a professor open to even more charges of biases, confrontation, and potential backlash? There are some students out there who feel like they are doing tremendous work when they’re really missing the bar, or feel like they should be getting an A no matter what.
I’m certainly not against reforming the way that grading is done. I think there would be a lot of value in a much more feedback driven, iterative assessment environment where a student’s grade is not based on a one-off test or single paper. I’ve always found comments on papers to be extremely helpful and have not “stymied” creativity or pushed me to do something “easy.” Ultimately, I don’t think a lot of students write about “boring” issues just to get things done with, almost all students seem to have something they care about that fits into the various different classes they take. Good teaching could involve giving leeway for that rather than just packing in traditional grading.
However, this also doesn’t address the issue that some professors/teachers simply do not care about teaching as their primary focus. I once had a professor who literally turned his class over to a non-affiliated local businessman who knew the subject so that the professor could “focus on what the University hired him to do: research.” Even professors who do engage in creating “imaginative spaces” for students still face the issue that even non-traditional pedagogy doesn’t reach everyone.
It seems clear that there are a lot more institutional obstacles to over come on this issue than just changing individual classrooms and methods. I think that the idea of grading coming from a different perspective than just pure assessment/ordering/standardizing is important and there are many potential ways to tie that into courses, but ultimately someone is going to have to submit some type of letter grade to the bureaucracy.