Subjectively assessing my students with SBG

Ever quote yourself in your own blog? There’s probably a rule against it but I’m about to do just that:

I’ve wondered, too, how objective SBG is. But the more I read lately, the more I’m convinced that what we need is not standardized, objective grading systems but more subjective grading systems, those that allow the teacher to personalize assessment for each student and students to have a role in defining the assessments. This should be done, though, in the framework of high expectations and defined learning targets. I’m still new enough at this to be idealistic, but I think SBG is the way to allow this to happen. –me, in the comments on my last post.

At least one reader of that post was interested enough in this comment to warrant further explanation:

I admit it, I’m biased. After all, what’s wrong with thinking that my students are the coolest kids in the world and that they are doing fantastic work that everyone should know about? I don’t have a problem with being biased. In fact I’m going to put my bias into my assessments.

Here is a fundamental question I ask myself regarding assessment of students: do I as a teacher want to assess a set of well-crafted standards that may be achieved multiple ways or do I want kids to take more objective standardized tests? My answer is yes, I do. Both. But not in equal amounts.

A caring classroom community demands subjective assessment because objective assessment is impersonal and generalized. If I always assess everyone the same way, then the community collapses into me vs. them because each student is just another row in the gradebook. The traditional model of education would continue with kids trying to game the system. Learning would continue to take a back seat to gathering points towards the grade.

subjective |səbˈjektiv| -based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions

But if instead, I use a consistent set of standards to subjectively grade each student on what I believe they personally can and have achieved,  I can put a value on their progress that is independent of every other student in that class. It will be independent of other students because the assessment of progress on the standards should come, in part, from the students themselves, and they are going to have unique perspectives on their own learning.

Of course my opinion enters into it; I’m a person, too. Students should be striving to create excellent products to demonstrate their learning and as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every product ever produced has an audience, I am simply part of that audience and will judge each product just like everyone else does. What may be different is that I have a set of standards that the students and I have worked out to use to judge the final products.

I think teachers kid themselves when they claim objectivity in grading. Or worse, maybe they are truly objective and don’t really differentiate between one student and the next, a one-size-fits all educator.  Instead, I vote we set up systems that allow subjectivity in assessments so that students’ unique talents and interests can be rewarded in the most productive way possible.

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