MYERS, M.J.; College of St. Catherine: Competency Plus Excellency: An Evaluation Scheme Aimed at Changing Learning
A common way to evaluate student work is to grade each aspect of a course (exam, paper, project), sum the points, and assign a grade based on the percentage of total points earned. In some courses, students are allowed to revise work and have it re-graded (especially papers), but most work is assessed only once. After using this standard method of evaluation for many years, I came to see several problems with such a scheme: 1) many students were sufficiently satisfied with their grades to happily move on to the next topic, even when they hadn’t mastered basic concepts, 2) students tended to think of grades as being given rather than earned, not taking responsibility for their learning, 3) for many students, grades were more important than learning, 4) it was hard to motivate good students to excel without making the class as a whole “overmatched”, 5) retaining skills or knowledge through time, even within the same course, was not particularly encouraged, and 6) grading is an onerous task, and I wanted to feel that my time spent doing it was more directly and effectively helping students learn. To address these problems, I devised an evaluation scheme where final grades were based on whether students achieved (and maintained!) competency in specific areas of skill, fact, or concept and whether they completed an “excellency” project that met rigorous criteria. Students could be evaluated for a given “competency” more than once and needed to decide whether they would attempt an “excellency” (although they could not earn an A in the course unless they did). I will talk about the details of this evaluation scheme as applied to a comparative animal physiology course for majors in which the primary pedagogy was problem-based learning, but will argue that it could be applied equally well to other subject areas and other pedagogies.