A Person is Not a Line Chart (Part 3)

Make sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series! In Part 2, I examine what school should be like in order to address the problem of excessive grading raised in Part 1. Now, I explore how to implement these solutions in a practical way.

There are two main problems with assessing only essay responses (I mean by this responses in detailed written form). First, it takes a significant amount of time to grade essays when every student (out of a class of several hundred students) turns in essays. Second, essay grading is subjective to varying extents depending on the nature of the prompt.

The time teachers must take to grade essays should not be a problem if essays are not given too often. If the teacher is giving out essays once a week, that returns to the problem of excessive grading mentioned in Part 1. In many classes (all classes in college and beyond) the final grade is based entirely on one or several final tests. If all or some of these tests are replaced with detailed written responses, or if some of these tests include a written portion, then the work involved in grading the essays should be manageable.

The habit in middle schools and high schools of grading every single assignment is quite absurd. This consumes a ridiculous amount of classroom time and causes students to focus on getting problems right rather than understanding even the details let alone the concepts. If all grades were derived from written responses, this would not be a problem. Students would have the time and freedom to express their whole knowledge about the topic after they have learned it.

Essay grading is subjective. But I claim that teachers are paid professionals. By “paid professionals” I mean that they (at least should) have the knowledge and expertise necessary to teach their subject clearly to meet the needs of their students and evaluable students accurately. Most teachers can give an accurate measure of their students’ abilities without any tests at all!

Is it then so absurd that the same paid professionals we trust to teach our children are unable to evaluate their students? It is time that we gave teachers some credit and allow them to do part of their job that the state has not been letting them do for long enough. Evaluation is part of teaching, and so teachers should have the freedom to evaluate their students. Teachers are able to grade essays accurately and fairly.

A common counterargument usually presented here is “what if there’s a bad teacher?”. What if there’s a bad pilot? You should probably enjoy the last few minutes of your life. The education administration should impose their rigor on teachers, not students. There should not be a bad teacher, and bad teachers should be fired. This is the same procedure and mindset as that found on any other job.

The proposed switch to essay questions as the only assessments (and the related focus on concepts instead of solely details) will have to start in schools that have the freedom to try new methods of teaching, such as private schools. As a new generation is taught concepts they will realize how valuable this sort of focus can be, and this emphasis will become more and more respected and acknowledged.

Then the public school system will finally recognize that people are not line charts. People are more than numbers can ever express, and students deserve an education they can actually use. Everything needs to be more adaptive, more alive. Concepts represent a flexibility and a power simply missing from public education.

But the students deserve it.

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