Evaluating and Grading Aren’t the Same Things

January 30, 2020
Are teachers simply judges who decide if their students pass or fail or "gardeners" who help them grow?

We’re doing something wrong when it comes to evaluating and grading our students. If teachers have tired, unmotivated, and stressed students at the point of mental collapse by the end of the semester, something isn’t working.

Final exams tend to measure memory more than learning, and this is taking its toll. Teachers evaluate to see if students are learning or not but forget that evaluations also serve to reveal teaching quality.

Because of this, understanding the difference between evaluation and grading is important. A grade is just the result of an evaluation; it’s a score that says little.

However, evaluation is just another way of learning. Does an F, a C-, or an A+ tell us anything beyond what we expected in the first place?

A little kid studying math.

Evaluating to learn

Evaluation is, or rather should be, an opportunity to put knowledge into practice and express ideas. It should be a time for doubts and questions to come up naturally.

Teachers at the service of those who learn. Thus, it’s better to use a green pen to highlight the good things. Furthermore, they should treat errors only as starting points for improvement. When teachers evaluate to grade but not to help students improve, it’s a pretty pointless activity.

Nowadays, many countries want teachers to focus more on abilities than content. Not everything we teach should automatically become an object of evaluation. Not everything that students learn is necessarily evaluable.

Teaching isn’t so much about giving knowledge but about helping students learn to reason. Therefore, learning isn’t only for accumulating knowledge but for internalizing and integrating it into our way of thinking.

Should teachers be evaluating or grading exams?

Many exams consist of memorizing and repeating content: the questions are easy to ask and easy to correct. They’re part of a learning system in which parents and teachers expect students to repeat what they’ve seen and heard, not what they’ve verified, thought about, or imagined.

On the other hand, something that many ignore is that an exam has an enormous power to focus a student’s attention. This is a magical quality that many try to shorten, not leaving a lot of time to answer.

A well-designed exam should be a continuation of student learning. It can be a time to think about what has been read and heard.

Finally, exams rarely relate to personal or social content. Basic skills are ignored and students “learn” information robotically, without thinking critically.

Teachers can motivate students to learn through both evaluating and grading..

Evaluating and grading by rubric

Teachers assign homework to help students develop certain skills. However, they need to make sure to use appropriate evaluation instruments.

Although there are several instruments to evaluate learning results, rubrics are the best. Their versatility and didactic potential have received the most attention of all.

Rubrics are point guides used in the evaluation of students’ development that describe the specific characteristics of a project or assignment. We classify them into various levels of accomplishment, with the end goal of clarifying what’s expected of the student’s work, give value to their performance, and facilitate feedback. (Andrade, 2005; Mertler, 2001).

Advantages for the student

Students get much more information through rubrics than through any other grading instruments. Indeed, feedback in rubrics is quite clear. They know beforehand the criteria they’ll be evaluated for.

Rubrics use criteria that stimulate learning and auto-evaluation and facilitate global comprehension and the development of a variety of abilities.

A teacher evaluating and grading a student's work.

Advantages for teachers

Rubrics are easy to use and to explain to students. In addition, they increase the objectivity of the grading process. They offer feedback about the efficiency of the learning methods that have been implemented. They’re versatile and adjust easily to the demands of the evaluation process.

A new way to understand evaluations

Formative evaluation is democratic and at the service of teaching and learning. This is very valuable when it comes to needing relevant and useful information, centering attention just as much on the processes as the contexts implied in teaching and learning.

In conclusion, it’s time to reclaim the meaning of the terms “evaluation” and “grade”!

Andrade, H. (2005). Teaching with rubrics. College Teaching, 53 (1) 27-30.

Álvarez Méndez, J. M. (2001). Evaluar para conocer, examinar para excluir. Barcelona: Morata.