Frequent, Low-Stakes Grading: Assessment for Communication, Confidence

Frequent, Low-Stakes Grading: Assessment for Communication, Confidence

April 18, 2013

By: Scott Warnock, PhD

Despite critiques of high-stakes testing – Wideen et al. (1997) said such “examinations discouraged teachers from using strategies which promoted enquiry and active student learning […] this impoverishment affected the language of classroom discourse”—teachers often still see “assessment as an index of school success rather than as the cause of that success” (Chappuis and Stiggins, 2002).

Certainly, grades, when misused as what Filene (2005) calls a “pedagogical whip,” can lead to problems: Grading curves pit students against each other, fostering strategic rather than deep learning (Bain, 2004). High-stakes grading may contribute to grade inflation (Rojstaczer and Healy, 2010). Grading pressures may even encourage cheating.

I offer the strategy/philosophy of frequent, low-stakes (FLS) grading: simple course evaluation methods that allow you to provide students with many grades so that an individual grade doesn’t mean much. FLS grading can have several advantages:

- It creates dialogue. Frequent grades can establish a productive student-teacher conversation, and students have an ongoing answer to the question, “How am I doing?”

- It builds confidence. Students have many opportunities to succeed, and there is a consistent, predictable, open evaluation structure.

-It increases motivation. FLS grading fits into students’ conceptions—and, perhaps, expectations—of assessment and evaluation: This is the culture they grew up in!

The growth of online courses provides additional exigency for FLS grading.

we need strategies to provide online students with meaningful communications about the course, and what is more meaningful to students than clear grade data?

You can still have your major papers and exams, but with FLS grading, a series of low-stakes assignments helps uncover points of intervention long before any high-stakes evaluation.


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