Four ways to think about whether grading is transparent, or not.
Excellent post - but I'd offer one pushback on "familiarity": just because it's familiar and default, that doesn't mean that students have necessarily bought into the system. There are lots of students who haven't fully bought in, even if they accept it as their default mode of assessment. I think many struggles that some students face are precisely because the assessment systems they are working under don't really make sense to them - but because they are default, they don't feel like they can question them. One advantage of non-traditional grading systems is their very defamiliarity - because the systems need to be learned and understood, they promote more overt and conscious buy-in, rather than default acceptance.
Loved this post as a place for thinking. Note that you've predicated it on hitting how traditional grading is or isn't transparent based on four components (familiarity, objectivity, predicatablity, and auditability). Primarily, you've used traditional grading examples and both given credit for the way traditional-points-based grading can be those things and also a few drawbacks or "myths" as you will, but not given quite the same attention to how alternative or ungrading methods can still meet these four components.
I found myself thinking about how ungrading, specifically, can be familiar - if we make it so, can be reasonably objective - as much as any other assessment (I am thinking of writing assessment here), and auditable - if we define the way progress will be monitored and then follow through. I left predictable for last because it's the one my students struggle the most to wrap their thinking around. They often voice concerns that without points to continually check, they don't know "how they are doing" or can't predict how they will do. However, once the buy-in happens, they realize ungrading actually provides THE MOST predictable outcomes. If students are working toward learning, hitting due dates and benchmarks/goals, and reflecting in ways that move them forward, they can reasonably predict success (in whatever way they define it). Because I use a grad pitch method, their predictions should hold true most all of the time. . . and in a few situations where that doesn't seem to be the case, it can usually be sorted out with a candid conversation.
I guess I'm saying there are ways to be transparent in all four of these sub-categories even without the use of traditional points, scores, and averages. Thanks for driving the conversations on better assessment.
I appreciate your thoughtful analysis, Robert!
Here's what I take issue with: "By that point, though, I think you're so close to using alternative grading, something predicated on engagement with a feedback loop, that it would be less work to just go the whole way: Drop points altogether, let students do reattempts without penalty, and spend your time giving helpful feedback instead of allocating points (and adjudicating the complaints that arise from them)."
It seems like a key component of your definition of "alternative grading" is that you don't use points. Why?
I engage students in feedback loops including reattempts without penalty and, within the time limits I have, I give constructive feedback oriented towards helping students with subsequent attempts. I also use points as a way to indicate progress toward a learning target because I think it is transparent and lowers the cognitive load for students. I see this as being no different than counting how many standards a student has met. In many SBG courses I've seen, student grades are determined by how many standards they've met, i.e. 11/12 = A. That seems... very much like points to me.
Or maybe (as I think and write about this), your issue with points is DOING MATH with points, which is to say, not just counting how many standards a student has met, but averaging across different components of a course, like homework is 15% of the grade and exams are 85% of the grade. Is that your issue with points? Because that's not so different than assigning one standard as "did you do a significant portion [even sometimes a percentage, like 75%] of the homework," which would equate to some small percentage of the total grade (i.e. 1/12 = 8%), which... isn't that different than traditional grading.
Or maybe your issue with points is the ONE paper that says when points and feedback are both provided, students only look at points. Is there more evidence than just one paper that points are so harmful to student learning? I'd really like to see how students respond to points + feedback in an environment where they can reattempt the assessment.
Curious to hear your thoughts!