While we work within a system that requires us to assign grades at the end of the course, research shows that the more we provide students with qualitative feedback and withhold quantitative grades the more students are able to absorb that feedback and improve their learning. Alternative assessments can support that process. Below are three ways to assess your students that give them a say in what their final grade is along with some references and resources.

It’s important to explain to students why you’re using the methods you chose. Keep in mind that your students may have spent most of their academic careers being assessed in a standard way. Even though standard assessments may feel familiar and comfortable, there are other ways to encourage students’ learning goals and motivation. Building trust with your students is foundational for developing alternative assessment practices that work. Wherever possible, provide as much clarity and transparency around your decisions and expectations to help support trust-building.

The 5-point System

The 5-point system is a compromise between students thinking they wanted everything to be graded and instructors who know that grades can actually distract from learning. Students earn 5 out of 5 points for every assignment, big or small, as long as they do three things: (1) submit it on time, (2) follow the directions, and (3) do the work completely. The work doesn’t have to be correct or high quality; it just has to be done. In addition to points, students receive feedback in multiple ways throughout the term: peer review, instructor comments, self-reflections, and comparing their work to model/exemplar work. This helps students have different ways to access feedback and learn from their effort and progress. These points averaged over the term are the “effort grade.” At the end of the term, students write a final reflection letter to the instructor explaining what they’ve learned and making the case for the grade they think they deserve. Their proposed grade is averaged in with their effort grade, and that is the grade they earn for the class.

Contract Grading

Popularized by Peter Elbow, contract grading is an assessment system where the tasks students must complete and the behaviors that are expected of them are clearly laid out at the beginning of the class, and a grade is attached to the contract so students know exactly what they have to do to earn that grade. See more in the reference list below.

Student Self-Assessment

Possibly the most radical of alternative assessment methods, student self-assessment requires a paradigm shift for both the instructor and the student so that students truly believe they have the freedom to determine their own grade and the instructor truly believes that students are capable of doing so fairly. See more in the reference list below.

Learn More Elsewhere

This article was last updated on Feb 26, 2021 @ 4:33 pm.

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