Should we take into account attitudinal aspects when grading?

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A few weeks ago I published the article Qualifying at the end of a formative evaluation, which was the continuation of another article Assses without qualifying: my experience. I received quite a few comments and we had some very interesting discussions on twitter. And I think that, based on all that, it might be interesting to explain why I firmly believe that it is not convenient to take into account attitude aspects when grading a subject.

Before arguing this, however, we need some previous ones that are already mentioned in the other articles but we must bear in mind. If you do not agree with these preambles, then you can stop reading. I use them as a basis for qualification.

  1. At school and in high schools, what should really matter is learning. Everything we do is for the student to learn.
  2. Grades are not a source of motivation. Several studies indicate that grades only motivate students who already have excellent grades. Other students, if anything, are afraid of them. And fear is never a good source of motivation, even if it can temporarily move us to perform certain actions.
  3. Grades should allow the student to know where he or she has come from. On his way to excellent achievement of the competencies, where has he stayed? Has he reached this excellent achievement? Most certainly not, that is why it is excellent. Has he stayed at the remarkable achievement?
  4. Grades should try to be fair (no bias) and should aim for fairness.
  5. Keep in mind that teachers have many tools, apart from grades, to try to improve student learning. MANY!

With these preliminaries, we try to see what happens when we do take into account attitudinal aspects in the grades of a subject. And what will we see? That with a lot of good will, we skip these previews. And therefore, the students see that we have one discourse (the important thing is learning, not grades) and we really encourage another one. Let’s go.

Late tasks or duties

We start with a very typical case. Let’s suppose that, from time to time, we set homework for the students to do at home. I’m not going to get into the debate of yes or no homework now. Let’s just assume that they are creative tasks and that we leave enough time for them to do them. Should we take into account in the grading that they have all been handed in on time? We must take into account that I am talking about attitude, therefore, I am not talking about whether they show learning of the subject. I am only saying whether we should value the fact that they have been delivered and on time. Let us suppose that we do take this into account. And that, at the end of the term, the student gets some extra points for this attitude (positive or negative). Have we broken any of the previous initials? Of course!

The first one, we have already skipped it: learning is no longer what matters. Now it is that they have a concrete attitude.
The second one, too: we are giving extra points to motivate the student to continue in the same line or we are taking points to get him to get hurt and this motivates him to improve.
The third, the same: the student does not know where he has stayed, since attitude has been mixed with learning of the subject and, therefore, he does not know where he is.
And the fourth, also falls: why does the student not do his homework? We have to be careful with equity, which here can waver. Do we really know the difficulties or the backpack that the student has? Someone will tell me that we do, and that if we know the circumstances, some students will not be harmed. Is it fair not to harm the one we know has difficulties and not to harm the one we don’t know has difficulties? Moreover, is it fair to reward the person who we know has all the resources he needs and more (family involved, private teacher…) and who does his homework because of the support he receives? Because he deserves more points if the merit is not his but his environment’s?

As you can see, introducing homework and task deadlines opens a door where being fair and equitable can be almost impossible.

Effort

Another very common case, the well-known culture of effort. Without a doubt, I am one of those who believe that it should be encouraged. In many children and adolescents, it is difficult to see a real and sustained effort. Surely the society of immediacy does not encourage it. And it is very necessary, so we must encourage it. But must it be taken into account in the qualification? We see what happens if we do.

We start with the student who makes a great effort. He does all the activities, asks when he has doubts, redoes what he has not done well, gives extra work… but still his learning does not reach the minimum we expect. Here we should do another article talking about how it is possible that a student who does all this and does not have any cognitive difficulties does not reach the minimum, maybe we have to do something better. But that would be another article. Let’s suppose that the student does not reach the minimum of the expected goals.

If we give him/her extra points for effort, let’s just cheat him/her and the family. And we take away opportunities (and equity!). Why? Because if he has passed, the whole environment will consider that the student has reached the objectives. We don’t have to look for more help. The student has achieved it. And he begins to drag deficiencies that, just like a snowball, will become big. It is much better to detect the difficulties and begin to put solutions in place to overcome them instead of deceiving them with good intentions.

But let’s go back to the previous initials. Have we fulfilled them?

We have already forgotten the first one. The learning is not the important thing, since the student does not achieve it and nothing has happened.
The second one also falls. Why do we give him points? So that he doesn’t get discouraged and continues to make an effort. Grades as motivation.
The third one will not be fulfilled either, because the student thinks he has achieved what is not true. Someone will say that we will explain it to him. Whatever you want but the student sees that he has passed.
And the fourth, nothing at all. Goodbye to fairness, since we may be depriving him/her of personalised support measures. And justice? Is the effort really the student’s or is it the environment that makes him/her a teacher or a sibling who helps him/her or the family? How difficult it is to be fair to value the effort of someone we can only see a few hours a week.

A note: when I speak in these terms, many people enter into a curious contradiction. They tell me right away that we are also teaching for life and that, for example, if you deliver some papers to the tax office late, you will have a surcharge. Therefore, you have to demand the deadlines with your qualifications. And, instead, for the effort, it seems that they are forgotten. If you tell the Inland Revenue that you made a mistake on your tax return but you show them all the calculations you made, all the hours you spent, all the effort you put in… Does the IRS forgive the fine? The contradiction is clear. According to the case they want to apply that life will not allow them (and it is false, that in my center there is always someone who arrives late to the meetings and nobody has touched his salary) and according to the case they become charitable and forget that life is different. A clear personal bias and, therefore, little justice.

Other cases

I could continue with class participation, with students we find copying on a test, with those who copy homework, etc. These are all aspects of attitude. Nothing to do with the learning foreseen in the subject. Introducing it again creates problems with the previous ones we have enunciated and, especially, with equity and justice.

And one thing is clear. If from a student I have not been able to collect evidence of his learning, either because he has not handed in homework, because he has copied in an exam and therefore I do not know what he knew, or for any other reason, I must grade him a failure. Lack of evidence is a sign of failure to achieve objectives.

Attitude goals

Many teachers set attitude goals in our subject. And it’s very logical, because it makes the students better people and also because it improves their learning. Am I saying that we shouldn’t program them? No! Of course we should. And we don’t have to evaluate? Of course we do! All I’m asking is that we don’t grade them. Because of everything I said before and because, in fact, it’s already in the grade. It’s the consequence. If the student doesn’t do his homework, he won’t learn the skills and/or concepts we want. And therefore, the final grade will already be lower than if he did it. But not because we have penalized her, but because her learning has been less than expected. The grade, without looking for it, already has attitude aspects implicit.

Evaluate attitude aspects, yes! Grade them, no!

Teachers have many tools to try to improve student learning

And here comes the previous fifth that I seemed to have forgotten. If a student makes an effort, there are no extra points to be given. But you have to value it, you have to encourage him to continue, congratulate him, guide him so that he can better focus this effort to achieve more learning. All these actions and more can be done.

And also on the other side. If someone does not hand over the tasks, actions will have to be taken. We will have to talk to him/her. Reflect. Perhaps sign a contract of commitment. Involve the family. And many more actions. It doesn’t help me to say that a student who has copied the homework, if we don’t give him/her a zero we don’t do anything. There are many tools, it is not necessary to use grades to punish. It takes away all the principles we’ve mentioned. But we do have to take action.

Collecting evidence of these attitudinal aspects is very important. And, above all, for equity. I like very much the following image of equity (I do not know the author).

Equity is just that, putting up solid boxes so that those who have more difficulties can also reach the fence. Ratings are not boxes. They do not build learning. If the difficulties are with specific subject matter skills, appropriate support must be sought (individual attention, adaptation of objectives, personalization of tasks, etc.). These are boxes. But these deficiencies must be detected without masking them with effort, participation…

And I said that it was important to also collect evidence of learning in attitude, without qualifying it, in order to also put the solid boxes in this sense. Interviews with the family, support from the guidance department, etc.

Final clarifications

First clarification: what is not valid now is to misinterpret the article and decide that the students have to do what they want during the term and risk everything in the final exam and those who know, know and those who don’t, don’t. This article is the third in the series. I include it within a formative and formative evaluation without grades during the term and with the improvement of tasks as an important axis. This is the only way it makes sense.

Second clarification: in Catalonia we are obliged to grade at the end of the course a subject called Personal and Social Scope. This subject does include these aspects of attitude, but it includes many more: group work, autonomy, responsibility, critical thinking, etc. I already like the fact that they appear in the final report. Informing the student about the fulfilment of these objectives is positive. What I don’t think is right is that it counts as one more subject when it comes to making students repeat a course. If he does not pass Spanish, Mathematics and Personal and Social Environment, he must repeat. I find this inappropriate (in fact, I usually find repetition inappropriate, but this would also be another article). I do not believe that any student can learn these personal and social skills better by repeating a course than by going on to the next one.

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