Inconsistency in Evaluation Practices

I’ve been having some great conversations with teachers in my school about final evaluations in high school courses (i.e. exams and final culminating tasks). I see a desperate need for the discussion, so I’m hoping this might be a place for some of it. To that end, I’m sharing some of the points people having been making. 

First, some context

When two or more teachers in a school have sections of the same course, they’re encouraged to collaborate throughout the courses and are required to have consistency in the way their final 30% is evaluated. For example, if one teacher has a large culminating task for the entire 30%, another teacher of the same course shouldn’t have a 30% formal “test” exam.

This is true in lots of schools all over Ontario. It’s not a provincial policy, but it’s a very common board/school/departmental policy.

Thoughts I’ve had and heard

These are some of the points I’ve heard about this approach in no particular order. I’ll use the term “exam” to refer to any tool that is used for the final 30% component of a student’s grade, whether it’s a test, assignment, presentation, research paper, performance, etc.

  • If you have a formal exam and I have a task, students won’t get consistent marks, which matters for post-secondary entrance/scholarships.
  • How is it different from one teacher being a “hard marker” and the other teacher being an “easy marker”? Isn’t that a bigger problem?
  • If two siblings are evaluated differently, parents and siblings will all be upset that it’s not equal.
  • Two teachers in different schools/boards don’t have to align their exams; why is it required within a school?
  • You’re more likely to have a consistent mark distribution if you use the same exams.
  • Teachers should have autonomy and be permitted professional judgement as long as they’re following curriculum, Growing Success, and other policies.
  • Students need to write formal exams to prepare for university, so there shouldn’t be other forms of exams in grade 12, especially for U courses.
  • The exam is only worth 30%. The 70% term work is more valuable, but the policy doesn’t apply to it.
  • If you say my exam is easier than another teacher’s exam, you’re implying that one of us is inaccurately evaluating student understanding and performance.
  • There is no standard for the “amount of work” a student has to do for an exam.
  • We should have provincially standardized exams for senior courses for consistency and equity.
  • An open-book exam is easier than a closed-book exam.
  • An open-book exam is harder than a closed-book exam.
  • Some students need accommodations because of learning disabilities. Is it okay to give a different form of the exam for those students? Can’t other students access the same accommodations, since they aren’t modifications?
  • If school administration would approve of both exams on their own, then two teachers should be able to have different exams at the same time.
  • Not all forms of evidence of student learning are equally valid or accurate.
  • If I come to a school for semester 2, why am I restricted by what a semester 1 teacher chose to do in their class?

What do you think?

Post some comments. Let’s work on this together.

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2 thoughts on “Inconsistency in Evaluation Practices

  1. Consistency should not equal standardization. Every time I teach a course it is never the same. I modify my delivery based on student interest and for my own sanity. If standardized tests were incorporated into every curricular course I believe our education system will ultimately fail our students. We need to teach our students about diversity, exploration and provide them with skills for the future. Exams are proof read by both department heads and administration so if a test/summative project is substandard then it needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

  2. I find some of the lines of reasoning you’ve included above curious, simply because if we take them and apply them to instruction rather than assessment, then it seems to be an argument against differentiated instruction. Isn’t it just as bad, or worse, if two teachers don’t teach in exactly the same way? Their students might learn different things! They might not be prepared for the exam! Clearly we need consistency in instruction before we could have consistency in evaluation, no?

    Really, though, I think we are looking for consistency in the wrong place. “Consistency” is conflated with fairness. Our evaluations should be fair in the sense that they do not put any student at a disadvantage. But fairness is not sameness—or as Sarah so rightly put it, “Consistency should not equal standardization.”

    I think the idea of being consistent across different students or classes is bizarre. You can’t have consistency, because students are not tiny clones or, despite what the ministry is increasingly trying to believe, numbers in a spreadsheet. Students are full of inconsistency. Hence, any type of assessment that ignores this fact and blithely tries to treat all students “consistently” is actually going to be worse than an assessment that acknowledges it. Such is the failure of our factory model of education. It’s unfair.

    By all means, talk about whether one assesses an individual student consistently. Talk about whether one’s types of assessments are consistent—for example, it would be unfair to spring an entirely new type of assessment on students and say, “This is 30% of your grade” if they have never seen it before. You don’t always have to give the same types of assessment, but if every assessment takes an entirely new form, that is inconsistent.

    But if we want to talk about the whole class, or two classes, and their culminating assessments, we should talk about fairness. And to me, that means asking the question: “Does this assessment allow the student to demonstrate their understanding of curriculum?” It doesn’t matter if it’s an exam or a presentation or whatever, as long as it serves that purpose. And that is where the teacher’s professional judgement—and the input of one’s colleagues, department head, etc., comes into play.

    The need for fairness is one reason I’m not enamoured with exams. I think the emphasis on exams creates an unfair environment and is, frankly, a failure of the collective imagination of educators; I’m pleased that more and more teachers are finding better ways to run culminating activities.

    Exams and standardization produce an illusion of consistency that helps no one and harms the students we care so much about. Let’s stop pretending everything and everyone can be the same, and start talking about how we can still be fair and equitable despite our differences.

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