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Grading Games: Whose Rules?

Every year when I begin teaching the course in educational assessment to my pre-service teachers, I ask them two questions: Do you feel like grading is a game? and What’s your story? Inevitably, they answer yes to the first question and regale us with a variety of stories about experiences with receiving grades (mostly negative). Students internalize messages about their worth, learn to “play the game”, and are tempted to idolize grades. Most Christian schools aim to form students as image-bearers of God into faithful Christ followers, but may not stop to analyze the effects of various assessment systems on student’s total well-being. Reflective administrators and teachers may ask: How can Christian schools develop an assessment system in line with their understanding of learners as God’s image-bearers?

Christian educators desire to acknowledge God, His word and works, and the redemption found in Christ as the framework undergirding curricular design. This includes the aspect of assessing student work in ways that promote meaningful learning, not driven by external grades. A solid understanding of sound assessment principles found in research combined with biblical principles of honoring the learner can offer practical guidance for assessment design.

Biblical principles of transparency for learning, stewardship, and justice frame the practical work of designing grades and assessment tasks that allow students to grow in their academic discipleship. Assessment for learning and of learning (Chappuis & Stiggins, 2020) invites students into meaningful learning through establishing clear purposes and a variety of tools that can be developed to promote transparency and actionable feedback. Creative projects, portfolios, and authentic tasks can be paired with more traditional forms of carefully designed assessment tools to promote active learning and stewardship of God’s gifts to learners.

When embedded in conceptual units built around big ideas, projects, and assessment tasks can focus on what the learner understands. For example, students learning about fairytales from around the world may explore why people tell such tales, compare folklore from various cultures, and write their own works. They may wrestle with how stories reveal deep beliefs and investigate how to tell the Christian story to people within their own sphere of influence. Students may write and tell such stories to real audiences in younger grades or local community centers. The work of learning narrative genre structures, figurative language, or syntax that communicates clearly motivates students in fresh ways as their beautiful work is shared with real friends and neighbors.

I am looking forward to the Christian Deeper Learning Conference in Vancouver to present biblical principles of assessment design, explore practical ways to build assessment tools, and learn from the creative ways that schools have enacted their own forays into deeper learning. Participants will be invited to create a yearlong assessment plan that is flexible enough to be revised. Our hope is that demonstrations of learning will be a joyful response to God’s good gifts, offered to him though grateful hearts.

Chappuis, J., & Stiggins, R. (2020). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right-using it well (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.


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