Friday, March 18, 2011

The Problem of Evaluation

One question that a lot of people asked me when I was homeschooled was, ‘Do you get grades?’ For most subjects I’d have to say no. I simply worked through the material, learned it and moved on. Even for Science, which did come with tests, I’d learn all the material and then take the test. Partly because of this, my marks were all above 95%, even on a subject which wasn’t my strong suit.

Now, before you accuse me of cheating, I want you to think for a second about the purpose of school. Why does the government force children ages 7-16 (I believe those are the compulsory ages in Canada, sorry if I’m wrong) to go to school? To educate them. To let them learn. Getting a 95% on an exam is not the purpose of education; it is only the method that teachers use to evaluate their student’s learning.

Apply this to my Science tests. The test mark isn’t proof that I’m so much smarter than a public school kid who got an 80%. Maybe if I had been in public school I’d only have earned a 70%. The point is not the mark. What counts is that I learned the material.

The problem with our education system is that grades very often don’t reflect the actual knowledge of the student. I recently earned a relatively low mark on a history midterm. I’m not going to post the mark here, but let it be said that it’s the lowest mark I’ve ever received and I was not happy with it. I had studied really hard for the test and I thought I knew the material quite well. I learned a lot. Even though the mark was still a pass, it was a letdown. Then, when I went to see the professor I learned that my poor mark was actually one of the better ones.

After hearing this, I started thinking about what the mark really meant. The professor was evaluating my learning through 25 multiple choice questions. It’s likely that this evaluation was wrong and I actually deserve a better grade. But does it matter? A mark is someone else’s idea of how much I learned. The evaluation can be accurate or it could be way off, but either way, I know how much I learned. The purpose of schooling is to learn. Yes, I’m upset because of the low mark, but I know that in the long run that doesn’t matter. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. And that’s what’s important to me.

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