It has come to my attention from a student-Canadian teammate of mine that an instructor at a well-known Vancouver-based college is utilizing her students’ self-assessments to assist her in building their grades for her course. That is to say, a portion of the candidates’ grades will be derived from the marks they claim to think they deserve on an assignment. I understand this was a popular marking technique in the 60s and 70s, but I had hoped it had expired with its cousin, the bellbottoms.

If grades matter, then allowing students to assist in deciding them means that students who have a false sense of their own achievement, and/or a strong sense of willingness to lie for the sake of a better results, will have an advantage over the humble and/or honest candidates.

I don’t want to betray the type of material being graded, but I can disclose that it is neither a business course (where perhaps the ability to overvalue one’s product is an essential part of the occupation), nor a self-esteem-inflation workshop where the students’ ability to think well of themselves is being evaluated.

Instead the skill allegedly being measured is in no way related to opportunism or narcissism. Thus, I call upon any proponents of this dilapidated marking philosophy to reconsider. You are paid to measure the students’ aptitudes! I understand that you believe that your students know themselves better than you do, but surely there’s a possibility that some of them are better at knowing themselves than others, and so, through factors unrelated to the skills being measured in your course, some students will be aided, while others will be hindered, by this policy.

Moreover, even though you may truly believe that all students know their aptitudes better than their teacher, and thus can best assess themselves, what makes you so certain that they will tell you the truth? While some students may feel obligated to be honest in their self-marking, others might be less ethically inclined, and so may feel a greater psychological connection with giving themselves the best score they can.

In general, the over-confident and self-promoting already have many undue advantages over the under-confident and fair-minded in the Western workforce; we don’t need to give them the additional favour of unearned grades.

4 thoughts on “MARKSISM”

  1. As an opponente of all kinds of grading, I can’t agree with your statements here. Grades, after all, are only yet another method used by schools to keep people under control. And, grading is no measure of learning or competence, except as aa arbitrary reward for following directions and obeying orders or punishment for not doing so. It might be ineresting to ask staduents and teachers to present a written evaluation of their experience, though I wouldn’t see even this as necessary. As someone once said the notion of grading to Socrates or Montaigne would have been incomprehensible nonsense.

  2. Thank you, Tom. I was imagining your reaction when I wrote this piece. Indeed, I purposely used the qualifier “If grades matter…” hoping that that might placate you. I don’t know if you’re right or not that grades are a silly business, but I maintain that, if they are to be used, allowing students to rate themselves (as part of their marks) puts the big ego-ed students at an advantage over the humble ones.

  3. Thanks, Seth, for chronicling my tale of woe. Since I couldn’t have written it MUCH better myself, I’ll give you a solid 4.5 out of 5. While you’re listening, I’d like to mount my own soapbox and emphasize the distinction between self-reflection and self-marking. Self-reflection is an extremely valuable exercise that teacher’s should assign, or at least encourage, students to do; even going so far as to mark students on the quality of their self-reflections is useful, as the ability to view one’s work critically is an important step to improvement. However, having a student assign a numeric value to his or her performance is flawed, not only for the valid reasons you mention above, but also because of the variety in people’s marking styles. At least when everyone’s work is marked by the same teacher, there is some consistency, but when people mark themselves, anarchy ensues! Some generous people, for instance, give out perfects willy-nilly, while others feel that no work is ever perfect.

    While I rather agree with Mr. Durrie that giving a number to an assignment is perhaps not the best mode of evaluation because it can be arbitrary, meaningless, inconsistent, and not very useful, I must respectfully disagree with his take on feedback. Receiving and considering feedback from others, like serious self-reflection, is one of the few ways that an individual can hope to improve her performance, and it is one of the benefits of attending school (provided you have good teachers). It’s very difficult to improve oneself entirely in isolation, so feedback can compensate for this human deficiency.

  4. Thank you, Disgruntled Student who is both the muse and the star of this piece. From muse, to star, to now evaluator of this blog post, you have – as you suggest – out done myself. 😉

    Your additional argument against Marksism is well taken: even if individual egos wouldn’t instinctively take both advantage and disadvantage of such a system, their natural differences in marking styles would likely do so anyway (even if unintentionally). Now, if the teacher marked them on their marking, too, then we might have something. 🙂

    Thanks for the detailed evaluation of assessment and feedback and how they seem useful in your current student life. Your arguments make sense to my novice perspective.

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