Grading: the objective myth

Objectivity as an ideal when assessing students must die. I do not mean we should abandon our goal to accurately asses what our students know, but we must admit that we can NOT be objective. Some believe that having tests with "right" answers leads to greater objectivity. Unfortunately, the very fact that someone made the decision to include THOSE questions makes the test creation a biased act and therefore the assessment is biased (subjective). Sometimes the language with which these kinds of tests (ie: multiple choice) are written is biased. Some students do not understand nuances of language that may be necessary to correctly interpret questions. Furthermore, these kinds of tests could just be assessing a student's ability to take a test (ie: their ability to eliminate answers, or look for context clues within the question itself). While this may be a worthwhile skill (it has served me well, but also dis-served me as well). I don't know many teachers who would argue that "being able to take a test" is the goal of education.

I suggest we admit that our assessments are merely a judgement. Our judgement of students' understanding and effort as measured by OUR measuring sticks not THE measuring sticks. I believe that once we admit the subjective nature of assessment, we will be free to work towards more authentic and hopefully accurate assessment means.

We all want our students to understand rather than memorize; to apply rather than repeat. Yet, some of us are stuck in an ideology of objectivity that never really existed in the first place. Give yourself permission to use a student's free writing on a topic to judge how well they understand the concept. Give yourself permission to assign a grade based on students' cumulative work and maybe even give yourself permission to not have a "test". Removing the objectivity myth may be the first step to better assessment and better learning in our classrooms.


  1. Nice rant, I like it! I agree it's important to recognize the limits of measures and consider their use rather than crystalling them into ends unto themselves. Look at all the abuses that psychometric testing has been accused of (some actually very valid criticisms!).

  2. Good stuff (as always), Jerrid. I might add that allowing students to be "assessed anytime" is another way of taking subjectivity out of it. Just because my planners says students should know XYZ by Friday doesn't mean I can't reassess them next month and change their "grade."

  3. ya, I like the idea of grades being fluid...heck understanding and learning is a continual process, fluidity ought to be a part of it.