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A criticism of Assessment FOR Learning is that along with it comes pressure to make sure that students’ grades increase. In other words, some have been concernerd that AFL might lead to grade inflation.

I would hope that no school would ever encourage grade inflation while it encourages its teachers to try AFL techniques. I think that that the concern over grade inflation is probably first and foremost a misunderstanding about the purpose of AFL.

The primary goal of AFL is not grade inflation. I don’t know that it would ever be appropriate for educators to do things solely for the purpose of raising grades. In fact, if grade inflation was the goal then a focus on AFL wouldn’t be necessary. Many teachers already do an excellent job of grade inflation through several more traditional measures such as extra credit, dropping the lowest grade, or curving scores. These are practices that teachers have used for many years, and they all have the same outcome of inflating grades and making grades less representative of actual learning. AFL isn’t necessary for inflating grades.

The primary goal of AFL is instead LEARNING INFLATION. The entire purpose of AFL is to increase learning. When teachers assess students in an ongoing manner, use that data to guide their instructional practices, and teach students how to use their own assessment data to chart their progress and to guide their studies, then it is only natural that learning will increase.

Now let’s be honest, when learning increases grades tend to increase as well. That is, grades will increase if we are grading accurately while learning increases. This is why it is impossible to discuss assessing with AFL techniques without also discussing grading practices. While assessment is not the same as grading, and while not all assessments need to be graded, if teachers aren’t careful with their grading practices they can negate their assessment efforts. For example, if a teacher’s assessment practices cause a student to increase learning to a B level but the grading practices cause the student to earn a D then the incentive for learning will decrease.

Once the conversation moves to grading practices it is very easy for that subject to dominate the discussion, but don’t be fooled – grading is secondary to learning. As you make plans to use AFL in your classroom, focus on this simple mantra: AFL is about how you use assessments to increase learning. Whatever types of assessments you use, use them in ongoing manner, use the data you receive to guide your instruction, and train/require your students to use their own data to guide their studies.

You’ll be using AFL and learning will inflate.

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Comment by stephen owen kitchen on October 13, 2009 at 4:18pm
There was a book written by William Glasser in the late 60's called "Schools Without Failure" It stated there are only two systems where time is more important than what is learned, the prison system and the educational system. AFL is not new, schools should teach, students should learn, and all do, some students learn at a different pace then others. It has always been said what is learned is more important than the grade. Grade inflation will always be around as long as grades are given. Pluses and minuses, weighted courses,unweighted courses, 5.0 scales, extra credit, bonus points, ect. AFL will not lead to grade inflamation ,by the nature of grades being given you have inflation. The "C "(2.0) is said to be average, but the majority of students in any give class has a GPA of well above 2.0, actually the mean is more around the "B" (3.0) range.
Comment by H. Alan Seibert on October 13, 2009 at 9:22am
Mr. Habeeb,

Thank you for composing another pedagogically sound, well-reasoned, and learning-focused contribution to the AFL dialogue.

Consider that if the true measure of a teacher’s teaching is student learning, then claims that AFL is about grade inflation would tantamount to claiming that AFL is about inflating measures of teacher effectiveness

Invariably, if you ask a good teacher, “How do you know when you have taught something?” the response immediately and naturally involves student learning outcomes, such as, “I know I have taught something when students can apply their new knowledge and skills in meeting a new challenge or solving a new problem.”

Now, if we know that we have taught something when a student has learned it, the uncomfortable corollary of this proposition is that if a student has not learned something then we have not taught it (at least not successfully).

If we will accept the reality that the true measure of every educator’s effectiveness is student learning for all students, improvements in instruction, assessment, and grading are sure to follow.

In the end, the grade in the student file or on the student transcript must represent what a student knows and can do. It also necessarily represents how effectively we have answered the call to teach.

Some students will learn no matter who their teacher is. Anyone can teach self-directed, motivated students. Other children face challenges that they can only overcome them with the help of a compassionate, committed, and highly-effective teacher.

The greater the child’s need the greater our opportunity to make the difference in their life…to be the teacher the student will always remember cared enough to not give up.

Respectfully submitted,

Alan Seibert

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