Assessment that Keeps the Attention Away from Grades

To keep the attention away from grades during the semester, give students an automatic grade, say, B+, at the end of the semester for satisfactory completion of 80% of the writing assignments—satisfactory meaning no further revision and resubmission requested—and for fulfillment of 80% of participation or process items. (Written assignments could be steps in the development of the major project for the course. Participation items could include prepared attendance at each session of the course, required One-on-One Sessions with the instructor (i.e., office hour meetings), maintaining a Personal and Professional Development Workbook, peer review of drafts, and so on.) Students with the automatic B+ can get a higher grade according to criteria that convey the general expectations running through the whole course. These expectations might include:
  • A sequence of assignments paced more or less as in syllabus, often revised thoroughly and with new thinking in response to comments.
  • A project that is innovative, well planned and carried out with considerable initiative, and indicates that the student can guide others to think critically about the subject of the course.
  • A project report that is clear and well structured, with supporting references and detail, and professionally presented.
  • Active, prepared participation in all sessions of the course.
  • Completion of most preparatory and follow-up homework tasks.
  • A Process Review that shows deep reflection by the student on their development through the semester and maps out the future directions in which they plan to develop.

  • If the 80% level automatic grade is a B+, students who meet many of the expectations well (or all the expectations moderately well) would earn an A-. Students who show almost all the expectations well would earn an A. Students can be invited to submit their own self-assessment in relation to these expectations. If there is a significant discrepancy between the assessments of the instructor and the student, they should discuss that.

    The practice of not grading any assignments and participation items is intended to keep teaching-learning interactions focused on the student's process of development through the semester. It is an invitation to separate the ideas of grading and assessing. Not grading during the semester frees up time and space for the student and instructor to appreciate and learn from what each other is saying and thinking (e.g., through Dialogue around Written Work). (Even more time is freed up if students use an assignment checklist to keep track of their own progress so the instructor does not have to remind them of overdue submissions or respond to the “can you tell me what my grade is so far?” question.)

    The instructor should make clear that their goal is to work with each student to achieve the 80% level. (The 20% slack means students do not have to seek approval for any tactical decisions they make in light of competing priorities in their work, lives, and other courses.) Students who progress steadily towards the automatic grade level during the semester usually end up producing work that meets criteria for a higher grade.

    Only for students who do not meet the 80% level automatic grade, points would be awarded for each written assignment and participation item satisfactorily completed. For example, if the automatic grade is equal to 80 points and the course had 10 written assignments for 2/3 of the course grade and 20 participation items for 1/3 of the course grade, then each written assignment could count 6.67 points and each participation item 1.67 points. (Students can use such a points system to tally their grade during the semester. However, doing this runs against the intention of this assessment-without-grades system, so this possibility should not be emphasized.)