Going Gradeless vs. Formative and Summative Assessment


I came across Edchat Interactive (#edchat) and the Starr Sackstein Edchat Interactive webinar where Sackstein shared many great ideas about the importance of formative assessment in formal educational contexts. I certainly agree with the various ways formative assessment allows learners to take ownership of the learning process.  Clearly, formative assessment (over summative assessment) should be the main focus when providing the kinds of feedback that allow students to transform into more competent individuals. But after having watched the webinar – which touched on topics few would disagree with (and not having read Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School) – I felt there was a missed opportunity to touch on more issue-based (or practical based) concepts that stem from the title of her book.

What grabbed my attention before having watched the webinar was the part of the book title, 10 Ways to go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School.  So, going into the webinar, I expected to hear about how summative assessment (via grades) would not be used at all. I quickly learned while watching the webinar that grades were in fact used in her classes by having students grade themselves.  Also, at 42:25, she says she, “…hates to teach to the test”, which is really a false argument against a thesis that grades should not be used in class at all.  In other words, tests can be useful in class without teaching to the test, aka dynamic assessment. Regardless, I get the impression that Sackstein is currently using summative assessment in class in the form of student self assessments and perhaps a final test at the end of the course?  If this is true, then this would seem to be counter to the book’s thesis, going gradeless… 

The would have been interesting to hear Sackstein’s perspective on the following questions:

  • How does she and each of her students negotiate the final grade for the course?
  • How does she resolve any differences in opinion between her and a student when negotiating the final grade for the course?
  • Are individual assignments, products, projects, etc. negotiated as well?  Do they receive a grade for each of these or just a final grade at the end of the course?
  • Is she really going gradeless if students are giving themselves a grade?
  • Does peer assessment play any role in the overall assessment approach?
  • How does she reconcile aligning assessments with both course goals and individual goals students set for themselves (assuming students set goals for themselves)?
  • What role does technology play in how assessment emerges both in and outside of class?
Again, the topics Sackstein bring up in the webinar are timely and relevant to today’s standard-based testing environment, but I couldn’t quite connect the dots between the book title and the webinar. And, I also felt that she was for the most part, preaching to the choir. A (future) webinar on the above questions, taking on a more practical discussion, would be helpful is better understanding the important relationship between formative and summative assessment in formal education.

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