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and the promise of grades


contents

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2 6

3 18

4 30

5 36

6 54

7 62

8 68

9 72


1


3 | 100%

During an investigation into the concept of perfection I began to explore the idea of how we judge value. Asking how do we hold one thing up above another as being more or less valuable. Essentially exploring what are the qualities that generate worth? The problem with this avenue of interest is that it is very subjective, one person’s idea of value is not the same as another. I therefore started interviewing people about objects that they owned that help a particular value for them due to their own unique qualities. I interviewed my dad about his motorbike which he value for it’s historical context and leisure possibilities. I also interviewed a DJ and a music producer. However I soon began to realise that the interviews were becoming a collection of peoples quirks and not really an exploration of the topic or judgements and value. Also I discovered that a number of artists such as Anna Baraball and Lucinda Holmes have already explored the subject on a much more conceptual level that allowed viewers to explore and question their own belief systems without having had them catalogued. I was therefore at a juncture where perfection and or imperfection were topics that were too vast and too limiting all at once and my exploration of peoples value systems was a little small minded. Consequently I began to explore the idea of how we are taught to value things and developed a small newspaper on the idea of 100 percent being a form of perfection. This newspaper just

touched the surface of the possibilities of the subject of judging value through percent and I hope to develop the topic further in this book. It is not possible for me to consider the idea of percent without it conjuring up memories of school, specially doing exams. It is therefore from personal experience that makes me aware of how deeply grading systems are entrenched in the British education system. I think I was one of the first years to have to sit the reintroduced SATS at age 11. Consequently the influence and effect of grading systems within education has been explored in some detail within this book. Looking at both ends of the spectrum the effect on children, and what it teaches them and the opinions of their teachers. It is doubly relevant because of the wider context of this book. It too will be judged and a grade awarded according to criteria set down for a BA in Graphic Design. I will endeavour to try and provide a view from both sides of the grade - from the effect it has on those that have to judge and award them to that of those who have to receive and live with them. However despite education being possibly the first place we encounter grading systems it will not be the last and consequently I hope to explore the idea of what grading children teaches and its effect post education. Exploring areas such as the media and consumerism which utilise the ideas of improvement to


100% | 4

sell and play on our ideas of gaining value. Tapping into to the ingrained idea that if attain something then you will be rewarded. The sporting world also employs a lot of statistics and grades athletes against both their competitors and their forebears which will provide another area of exploration. Perhaps grades mean something or perhaps they only hold their value for such a short amount of time. Maybe their real value lies simply as a motivational tool or as an introduction to the harsh realities of life. I do not propose that I will be able to solve the riddle of grades and their value but I do hope to reconcile my own attitude toward them and hopefully discover something new.


5 | 100%


2


7 | Pass / Fail

Perhaps I should start by explaining why this has a particular resonance for myself, and perhaps most of my generation. A few years ago I was struggling to sleep before my final exam at university and as a solution I decided to add up all the exams I had sat in my life. Now I don’t have the best of memories and it was late and I was stressed. I therefore decided to limit the count to examinations taken between the ages of 16 and 21. This encompassed all my GSCEs and A-Levels. When I finally added them all up they came to a grand total of 58. Considering I relegated the first halve of my life as exam free this seemed quite I high number. On average 11.5 exams a year. I know I had sat SATs, and yearly exams pre-GCSE and even an exam in primary school before I had even got to secondary school. I doubt I could find out how many exams I have actually sat - I think it could be in the 100s. I also truly believed in these exams, this is why I couldn’t sleep, they were important and meant something. With the knowledge that I had managed 57 and was still alive to count them up I went to sleep, got up and finally sat what I hope will be my last exam. However this was in fact when the testing really began. Signing on at Wrexham Jobcentre for the next 12 months is one of the harshest test I have ever had to endure - especially when coupled with the disappointed parent effect. Eventually a next door neighbour who needed someone who could work a computer gave me a job.

It is true I didn’t take the most vocational qualification; but does that therefore mean that all those grades were valueless? Now with hindsight I know they are valueless, the value lies in the knowledge gained not the grade. However because of the system of constant testing from the age of 11 up I lost sight of the reason behind the grades. I do not think my education was unique in the number of tests I sat. My school was particularly focused on beating last years excellent results but this could have been a result of the entire system going through the sane experience as me. And to what point. The older a grade becomes the more arbitrary it seems. However I hope this is not so of the learning as well. Despite this rather jaded opinion of education and grading systems I am enrolled on another course of study. Here however no examinations of the intensive hour long kind. Course work is generated and then its relative merits or lack of them awarded a grade according to a criteria system. I am under no illusions that this degree has a value beyond what I learn from it and yet I am still strung up on deadlines and the value of my work. I believe in grades and yet have no concept and yet have no concept of 100 percent. I do not believe I can obtain it, and yet I want it so. I have been very much indoctrinated with the power and value of high grades. Where does this power come from?


Pass / Fail | 8

Between the ages of 16 and 21, and only as far as I can remember, I sat 58 exams. Which although it seems like a lot could have been a lot higher. As far as I remember it was possible to do resits at A-Level. So this figure could potentially have been in the 70s or eighties. Thankfully I was fortunate in only doing one resit. I doubt that this figure is actually that high in comparison to someone who studied under the new system of AS-Levels or Btec Diploma which has more subjects to study for. So what does this really mean? I think what this figure says really is that in some respects all you need to do to succeed on paper is develop a skill at answering exams. This will not however prepare you in any way for the real world.


9 | Pass / Fail

58

exams in 5 years


Pass / Fail | 10

There is or course a much wider social context going on here than just examining children for the sake of it. Assessment has a long history, and its role is a function of society’s needs at the time. Assessment for selection, which later became linked with certification, illustrates well the power and control aspects of assessment as its role in cultural and social reproduction. There are a range of reasons for developing examination and testing systems. Such as reducing monopolies of birth and wealth, checking patronage and corruption, allocating scarce resources in higher education and controlling curricula. Examinations were first developed in China under the Han dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) in order to select candidates for government service. The Jesuits introduced competitive examinations in their schools in the 17th century, possibly influenced by experiences in China. It was not until the late 18th century and early 19th century that examinations developed in northern Europe - Prussia and then in France and England again in order to select candidates for government. As Eckstein and Noah (1993) put it: "As modern states industrialised, improved communications, and evolved their large bureucracies, the practice of written, public examinations previously confined to China, became

increasingly common". In China the exams were used only to select bureaucrats, with competition as the major characteristic. Certification emerged later in the European, and then the American , exams as an important added purpose. In Europe, as the industrial capitalist economy flourished, there was an increased need for trained middle-class workers. Access to the professions had been determined, before the 19th century, by family history and patronage rather than by academic achievement or ability. Soon after the turn of the century, this picture began to change. The economy required more individuals in the professions and in managerial positions. Society, therefore, needed to encourage a wider range of individuals to take these roles. The expanding middle classes realised that education was ameans of aquiring social status, and they could see that it was in their children's interests to encourage them to aim for the professions. This was the first time that upward mobility became a practical proposition on a wide scale. Of course, there had to be some way of selecting those who were deemed suitable for training, as well as certifying those who were deemed competent. Thus, the professions began to control access to training and membership through examinition. In Britain, it was the medical profession


11 | Pass / Fail

that in 1815, first introduced qualifying exams. These exams were designed to determine competence and, therefore, limited access to membership of the profession. Written exams for solicters came in 1835, and exams for accountancy in 1880. The universities were next to institute exams. The demand for entry from the middle classes increased, and in the 1850s Oxford and Cambridge set up examination boards, and London and Durham Universities introduced their own selective entry exams. It was still possible to buy one's way into a university, but before this, entry had been determined solely by family background. In 1935, entry exams were introduced as an alternative to patronage for select candidates for the rapidly expanding Civil Service. At the school level, in England, school leaving exams were formalised in the early part if the 20th century when the School Certifcate was introduced as a standard school leaving and university entrance qualification. This was necessary because of the increasing numbers completing secondary schooling. To obtain the school certicate required a pass in five ir nore academic subjects, with music and manual subjects being optional. The formal written examination of academic subjects was seen to be important because most early qualifying

exams for entrance to the professions were written theoretical tests. Because written exams were associated with high-status professions, this type of exam became itself invested with a high status. Thus, we can see that assessment for selection and certification has had a key social role to play in a range of countries. Such examinations were generally instituted to control patronage and to limit priviliged access to specialised or higher education, the professions, and government posts. However although the exams limited nepotism and corruption, they could not eliminate completely the advantages afforded by social status and wealth. In Britain, in the case of the Civil Service exams, it was still almost exclusively those who had recieved an appropriate fee-paying education who were able to pass. Assessment for selection can of course mean either selectiion into, or out of a group. This was very much the purpose of selection within the school system, with IQ testing playing a central role in both identifying those considered able enough for an academic education, who were selected into the system, and selecting out of the system those deemed ineducable. Examinations are a way to control society and let those deemed unsuitable down in a formal and legitimate way.


Pass / Fail | 12


13 | Pass / Fail


Pass / Fail | 14

Free universal secondary education was introduced in England in 1944, there was pressure on placements for the selective, more academic grammar schools. Children were selected for these schools on the basis of their ability to benefit from this type of education. Assessments involved group IQ tests, maths and English test (the famous 11+ examination), and teachers reports. Claims that intelligence testing penalised the working class were put aside by arguments that you would need the right social background in order to succeed in a grammar school. However, It was not long before evidence grew that the 11+ selection procedure was biased in favour of children from middle class backgrounds, was amenable to coaching, and therefore was not a measure of pure talent.

underlying rationale; to control mass education and the nature of its goals and rewards. It operates to distribute, in a justifiable way, social roles that are not equal or desirable. Individuals are allowed to compete on an equal basis to demonstrate their competence. The provision of an apparently fair competition allows those who are not successful to accept their failure (thus controlling resentment among the least privileged) and acquiesce in the legitimacy of the prevailing order. Broadfoot cites IQ testing as a means of social control “unsurpassed in teaching the doomed majority that their failure was a result of their own in built inadequacy�. The argument in this case is that intelligence test obscures the perpetuation of social inequalities because it legitimates them.

Another assumption, and part of that attraction of IQ test, was that nonverbal tests were independent of culture. Evidence to contradict this belief began to emerge in the 1950s, and there now seems to be a fairly clear understanding that IQ tests are biased in favour of individuals from the dominant culture that designed the tests. In the UK this meant those from a White, male, middle-class background.

The middle classes, unable to perpetuate their status through capital alone at the beginning of the century, were able to fall back on a second line of defence: a school system that, although apparently allowing equal opportunity, was in fact, geared to the culture of the ruling class. The system allowed them to perpetuate their privileged position by giving them a better chance at educational success. Thus we have the notion of cultural capital as opposed the financial or material capital. The cultural capital argument is that children from lower social groups are not less intelligent or less academically

In developed societies with mass education systems, whether for selection or certification, has a single


15 | Pass / Fail

capable, but children from middle-class homes are better able to do well at school because of correspondence of cultural factors between home and school. As a result examinations have a legitimating role in that they allow ruling classes to legitimate the power and prestige they already have. It is not that the white middle classes are more intelligent or better able to acquire intelligence; rather, intelligence is defined by them and measured according to their characteristics. Foucault (1977) argued that assessment is one of the most significant disciplinary mechanisms of society. Foucault’s work focuses on power relations in social interactions, and he argues that all types of social relationships are relationships of power. One of Foucault’s themes was the use of surveillance as a form of social control, and here he implicated assessment. Because assessment procedures are so closely bound up with the legitimisation of particular educational practices, because they are the overt means of communication from school to society and the covert means of that society’s response in the form of control, assessment may be the most important. Assessment procedures may well be the system that determines curriculum and pedagogy and, hence, social reproduction.

If I am to believe the academics it would appear that assessment was originally sold on the premise that it was an equitable tool for selection and certification purposes. However, through time and the cultural context it can be seen that assessment in its various forms, has a key role play in cultural reproduction and social stratification. This would suggest that I sat those 58 exams in order that I may think I can get ahead because exams are appear to be fair. However, as they are written by the ruling class they reflect their attitudes and consequently are easier if you come from that class. After learning this you may well be left thinking, so what does this mean about me? I have toiled under ‘the system’ and truth be told not exactly failed - so why still unemployed and lost? So although I don’t agree with the idea of examination as a means of social control it certainly has not really had much of a reflection on me. Even after the control and selection process I was still unable to get a job. Social control it may well be but on a personal level I am not sure if this means anything to me or anyone else. It still doesn’t explain what this all means to me and what it says about me. However I can now perceive more clearly how it may have selected people for different roles in life on a basis that may not have been based on intelligence. Does this mean that the grades I have achieved mean even less as a way to measure quality in that they are more of a reflection of my social position as opposed to intelligence?


Pass / Fail | 16


17 | Pass / Fail


3


19 | + / -

Not only did I sit multiple choice exams in America but the constructed response examinations I sat were negatively scored. This means that you start with 100 percent and every time you get an answer incorrect you loose a mark. However the loophole in this system is that it doesn't account for answering the question with details that are correct but don't exactly answer the question. For example if you don't know the answer you can simply write around the subject and still come away with full marks - so long as you don't say anything wrong. The English grading system tends to be the other way around i.e. a positive grading system. You start with nothing and every time you get something right you get a mark. It is quite rare to achieve 100% under positive grading however it is not so difficult to achieve under negative grading. This chapter will explore the impact of positive and negative grading within the wider context of grades as motivational incentives. Motivation generally is divided into two separate categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation involves individuals that are motivated by an innate, pervasive need to seek out challenging tasks that provide feelings of general competence and mastery. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity to receive rewards. For example, a student may study for hours for an exam simply to receive a good grade. In this case the student is motivated by the incentive is receiving

the good grade. Incentives always proceed behaviour, and excite or inhibit the initiation of behaviour. Thus students are often motivated by the incentive of receiving a good grade before the assignment is due. Furthermore students are also motivated by consequences, such as doing poorly in an exam. With regards to motivation, grades also have been classified as being quasi-needs, which are defined as "ephemeral, situationally induced wants that create tense energy to engage in behaviour capable of reducing the build-up tension. There is often a sense of urgency about grades, that can possibly overwhelm other needs. As quasi-needs grades have a considerable emotional response on the part of the students. Although grades may motivate some students to learn and study more, grades also have limitations in terms of motivation. Research demonstrates that extrinsic reinforcers, such as grades, work to decrease intrinsic motivation and interfere with the process and quality of learning. Unfortunately grades may distract from learning process and focus attention on the final result getting a grade. Learners that are motivated extrinsically are less likely to experience positive emotions such as enjoyment and are more likely to use a negative emotional tone, such as displaying frustration in the classroom. Even good grades can create unmotivated students.


+ / - | 20


21 | + / -


+ / - | 22

pass / fail Simplified letter grading system where criteria are generally established for what counts as passing and failing.

points Students earn points for completing coursework. Final grades are determined by total points at the end of the semester.

CompetenCy based Students attain certain skills and are graded on achieving appropriate competency in particular skill areas.

letter A, B, C, D and F where criteria are generally established for the upper and lower limits of each letter.


23 | + / -

Qualitative Moves away from letter grading and relies on narrative feedback from the teacher. Can be used in isolation or in conjunction with other grading systems.

Portfolio Collection of original student work. Can be used exclusively or in addition with another form of grading system.

Contract grading Teacher and student making and signing a contract that indicates the work to be completed in a set amount of time.

Multiple grading Students can earn more than one grade i.e. one for performance and one for effort.


+ / - | 24

There are two possible conditions that grades can be used under: positive and negative. The positive conditions follows the lines of 'if you hand in this assignment, you will receive x amount of points on your final grade of this marking term'. In the negative condition the statement is thus 'If you do not hand in this assignment, you will lose x amount of points on your final grade of this marking term. In the majority of cases grades are a more potent motivational force when used as a negative as opposed to a positive incentive. However, discerning why this is the case is a difficult task. One possible explanation centres around the value that grades hold for students. For some students, grades are only important insofar as they are needed to maintain an academic standard that will enable them to achieve a desired end (e.g. passing the course, going to college). Once this minimal level is attained, additional points cease to be of value. Hence, at this junction, the offering of grades is no longer a viable motivational force. Further, in light of the anti-intellectual values of high school culture it is problematic whether many students would "risk" doing extra credit assignments. For in the context of the high school, such achievement-orientated behaviour would be apt to elicit both negative and sanctions from a student's peers. In contrast, when grades are used as a negative incentive, it is not simply a choice of whether to leave wellenough alone. Instead, the student is faced with losing points and potentially falling below a standard necessary

to secure his goals (e.g. to avoid failing). It would be expected, then that the need to maintain certain basic standard would exert a pressure to comply with teacherdesired behaviour not present under positive conditions. Beyond this students completing assignments to avoid penalties and subsequent failure probably would not be perceived by their peers as attempting to be intellectual but instead merely responding to the minimal requirements of the system. Thus under negative as opposed to positive conditions, student culture probably would not work to constrain individuals from engaging in the behaviour that the incentive is attempting to elicit. The level of incentive also has an impact on the work done by students. The logic behind this phenomenon is that, at least up to a point, the more points one threatens to take away or offers to give, the greater the probability that a student will perceive completing an assignment as either necessary to avoid failure or as worth the effort. Yet again there is a greater response when the incentive is negative than positive. When you consider the complex and numerous sanctions that are officially imposed when a student fails a course as opposed to the relatively meagre formal rewards for attaining a pass it would be expected that, on average, points subtracted from the typical pass grade are worth more than points added. There are of course a whole range of variables potentially influencing the effectiveness of grades as an incentive such as personality, family value system, intelligence, achievement and motivation and these variables would need to be explored to fully gauge the effectiveness of grades.


25 | + / -


+ / - | 26

Understanding the premise of achievement goal theory (AGF) provides further illumination. AGT suggests that a student's behaviours related to both achievement and motivation can be understood by examining the reasons they adopt while engaged in academic work. In essence, one of two messages is demonstrated in the classroom dependant upon whether the environment promotes performance or mastery of goals. Mastery of goals primarily focus on engaging in achievement behaviour through developing competence. An environment with mastery goals conveys that learning is important, every student is valued, effort is important, and that success comes through hard work and learning. On the other hand, performance goals primarily focus on engaging in achievement behaviour to demonstrate superiority over other students. Success is demonstrated through extrinsic rewards, demonstrating ability, and doing better that other students.

On the positive side, extrinsic rewards do carry some advantages. Rewards can make an otherwise uninteresting task seem suddenly worth pursuing. For instance students already may be unmotivated because of the nature of the subject. Students that are required to take certain classes often bring an unmotivated and negative attitude into the classroom. However, teachers who can facilitate engaging discussions and involve their students in activities may be able to motivate them to learn. Furthermore, if the teacher gave the student participation points for active participation, students likely would see the task ahead of them as worth pursuing. Extrinsic motivators have been used in a variety of instances to increase socially important, yet uninteresting tasks,: motivating young children to do their homework, teaching near sighted children to wear contact lenses and getting children to participate in recycling.

Environments stressing performance goals can be problematic. For instance, performance based climates are associated with decreased intrinsic motivation. Research also demonstrates that the consequences of rewards and learning: rewards often focus attention on learning factual information rather than conceptual information, limits one's thinking and problem solving skills, and undermine creativity. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that learners' curiosity, interest, and mastery of a subject remain more prevalent when rewards are not involved. Interestingly the promotion of mastery goals over school years decreases. The learning process and quality of learning are at risk when grades are used as a motivating force. However, their is another side to the story.

Because of the many disadvantages of using grades, attempts have been made to teach without them; however, students were less motivated to study when no grades were used. Additional research has illustrated that using grades not only enhances students' motivation, but allows for a better differentiation among students. Although some academics argue that grades should be abandoned, scholars have asserted that arguments against using grades are empirically unfounded. Despite the disadvantages of extrinsic motivators, grades continue to be used for fostering motivation in classrooms. However they are beginning to be used in conjunction with other assessment techniques.


27 | + / -

Due to this understanding of the effects of grades there have been some recent trends in the design of education and of course grading. Many of the currect developments, including performance assessments, portfolios, and "authentic" assessments, have a rather different approach from tradtional standardised tests or examinations. Put simply, the focus has shifted toward a broader assessment of learning, enhancement of learning for the individual, engagement with the student during assessment, and involvement of teachers in the assessment process. The purpose of these assessments, in the main, is not that of selection or certification, and this different purpose allows for greater flexibility in style of assessment. But these developments do not result simply from a change in purpose; the practice and philosophy of assessment has undergone a change in the last two decades. Psychometric theory developed originally from work on intelligence and intelligence testing. The underlying notion was that intelligence was inate and fixed in the way that other inhereted characteristics are, such as skin colour. Intelligence could therefore be measured (since like other characteristics, it was observable), and, on the basis of the outcome, individuals could be assigned to groups, or schools that were appropriate to their intelligence (or ability as it became to be seen). Along with psychometric theory, its formulas and quantification, came an aura of objectivity; such testing is "scientific," and therefore the figure it produces must be accurate and meaningful. The measurements that individuals amass via such testing (e.g. IQ scores,

reading ages, rankings) come to have a powerful labeling potential. However, by the 1970s these tests were viewed as biased in regard to gender, ethnicity, and social class - and thus unfair. These new developments in assessment - performance assessment, "authentic" assessment, potfolio assessment, and so forth - are part of a move to design assessments that supports learning and provides more detailed information about the students. The process of reform and change that is taking place in education, and that is reflected in changes in assessment has to be understood within the context of our era. The world in which we now find ourselves, characterised as postmodern, suggests that our ways of understanding and questioning the world need adjusting if we are to influence it. Knowledge does not exist objectively out there, independent of the knower; the categories of truth and knowledge are seen to be not only hugely complex and subjective but politically saturated. In this paradigm, there is no grand narrative, no conceptuyal framework. In the postmodern world view assessment is seen to be value laden and socially constructed. To see assessment as an objective activity is mistaken; assessment is not an exact science. We are social beings who construe the world according to our values and perceptions; thus our biographies are central to what we see and how we interpret it. Similarly in assessment, performance is not "objective"; rather it is construed according to the perspectives and values of the assessor, whether the assessor is the one who designs the assessment and its "objective" marking scheme or the one who grades open ended performaces.


+ / - | 28


29 | + / -


4


31 | A, B, C or D

I do not recall how many of the 58 exams I have taken were multiple choice but two occasions do come to mind when I think of the format. The first was in the first year of at Keele University. Keele believed that students should have a well rounded education and therefore assigned each student obligatory complimentary subjects. For example if you were enrolled on a science course you were obliged to study a humanities subject. I was enrolled on a humanities course and consequently was forced to study Computer Programming and Astronomy, two subjects I had very little interest or aptitude in. Computer programming was assessed on coursework but astronomy entailed two multiple choice exams. As you can well imagine first years do little enough study on subjects they choice so my application to astronomy was light in the extreme. When it came to the exam needless to say I was particularly unprepared and aimed to simply pass as I had not intention of developing this area of study further. I confess I simply circled C to every answer that I didn’t know. Which was essentially the whole paper. In retrospect this may seem a little blazé but in reality it simply reflects the level of interest I had in astronomy. This approach to exam taking is not what made the occasion stick in my mind rather it is the fact that I passed and not that badly either. It was not the best grade I have ever achieved but I am not entirely sure it is the worst. The second occasion was at a different

university this time in America. In a bid to escape from Keele, which was not quite the right university for me I enrolled on the ERASMUS exchange and studied in Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. In America the grading systems are a little different. To start with things are generally considered easier consequently despite only entering my second year in the UK I was enrolled on third year courses in America. This is not where the differences end. Their grading systems are the reverse of ours; in the UK you start with 0 and every time you say something right you get a mark. Whereas in America you start with 100% and every time you say something wrong you loose a mark. So as long as you don’t say anything that is technically wrong, even if you don’t answer the question, you can achieve 100%. They are also big fans of the multiple choice exam. Therefore as I sat down expecting to write an analytical exam I was instead confronted by a multiple choice paper. You might not find this that must of a surprise - but please consider I was siting a multiple choice English Literature exam. Which I might add I gained one of my worse grades in. From these two experience I believe that multiple choice exams are perhaps not the best judge of knowledge. It astounds me that they are used in education - especially English exams and that the results are considered to be of an accurate way of judging a person’s knowledge. Based on these two experiences I decided to test the multiple choice exam.


A, B, C or D | 32


33 | A, B, C or D

THE


A, B, C or D | 34

Interestingly since America I have not sat another multiple choice exam - pub quiz yes, exam no. So it would seem that it may be just the Americans that think they are an effective measurement of knowledge. The theory behind the test format is presented below. The theory suggests a couple of points that can be seen as positives however, in my opinion it doesn't really matter how many positive points their are there is no place for multiple choice in a Literature exam. The only place perhaps for the a, b, c, and d option is the pub (in my opinion). Multiple choice questions (MCQs) have their positives and negatives. They have the advantage that scoring is absolutely objective and may be automated, so at the end of the examination procedure, the student may print the results, see his/her final score and his/her mistakes. Provided that the MCQs have been correctly formulated, right answering requires specialist knowledge, emphasis on detail and quick response and decision making, taking into account that a specified time might be predetermined for answering the whole set of questions. Apart from the advantage of objectivity in checking knowledge acquisition and speed in results production, MCQs provide the possibility to the teacher to ascertain and control the degree of assimilation of knowledge, concerning the whole breadth of the subject material.

Disadvantages of MCQs are the limitation imposed on the kind of questions that might be posed, as well as the care needed by the examiner in formulating MC items in comparison to constructed-response questions. The examinee is judged solely on the correctness of the answer he/she choose and not based on the path used for reaching the answer. Furthermore, it is not possible to investigate in depth whether the topic, which a specific question concerned, has been fully understood. Additionally, there exist the possibility that a student might collect some partial scores in the final score, by answering questions by chance, without possessing knowledge of the questioned material. On the other hand, using examination based on more traditional methods of constructed response questions (CRQs), for example questions which are answered developing a set of subjects in the form of short essays, the examiner has the possibility of checking more fully the knowledge of the student and especially the way that he/she developed the subject under question. The disadvantage of the CR method is focused on the fact that subjects that might be examined cannot cover a significant amount of the material taught during the courses and can also include grading difficulties.


35 | A, B, C or D


5


37 | *

Having explored grading systems through my personal history, the history of education and through academia's review of education I felt it was important to find out if any of the theorising bared a reflection on real life. It is all very well debating about an issue but what is the situation like on ground level. I therefore endeavoured to collect some primary data on the subject in order to establish how current teachers and lecturers felt about the grading systems they use and how they feel they affect their pupils. There was a small drawback in this plan in that it involved asking teachers in their time off to consider teaching. Which is much like asking a chef to cook dinner after thirteen hours in the kitchen. Fortunately teachers seem to be the generous sort and grading systems is actually a hot topic of debate. I endeavoured to approach as broad spectrun of teachers, or tutors, as possible contact primary and secondary school teachers, and college and university lecturers. I also approached teachers whose subjects varied in both their content and teaching approach for example a trainee Maths teacher and a secondary school Art teacher. The feedback I received was certainly illuminating. Grades don't seem to have such influence in primary school as I hazily remembered. However SATs are used at a primary level which puts an incredible pressure on very young children to start believing they need to achieve in

a graded way from a very early age. Interestingly all the teachers I interviewed seemed to note some of the same trends developing across the subjects. It is a sad fact that it would appear that students are being pressured by outside forces such as university fees and the economy to consider their education in a way that matches that of the burgeoning middle class of the 19th century. Many of the teachers interviewed remarked that students viewed school and learning a means to getting somewhere else as opposed to something interesting in itself. With one teacher in particular lamenting the lack of learning for the love of it. Students are still being forced to consider education as something that is needed for their futures as opposed to something that they can find and enjoy. Perhaps this can be linked to the increasing class disparity that exists in this country. No one is willing to take the financial risks of doing something that perhaps will fail. Becuase of this lack of adventure we are at risk of limiting ourselves to the safe and never finding the exciting and happy accident that is serendipity. This can be doubly lamented due to the recent understanding in education how to award grades. There has been a recent change that awards students for thinking and applying themselves as opposed to simply finding the right answer. The stage is set for students to be rewarded for exploration but the economy and the political decisions on education are conspiing to hinder this progress.


* | 38

Name Age Studied Occupation

Naomi Morgan 30 BSc Psychology at Coventry University Teacher

1 Is it possible to be achieve 100%? As in are there always fixed answers - you are either right or wrong? I teach a subject where, often, there is no right or wrong answer. There are theories that are debated and researched but never 100% proven. There are lots of different branches within Psychology who all have conflicting views. The way to gain 100% in assessments within psychology is to have an excellent knowledge of all of the differing views, research and strengths and weaknesses of each viewpoint. So gaining 100% is not about being right or wrong necessarily, it is about being knowledgeable on the subject. One question can have several different answers that can all be correct and gain 100% as long as the pupil back up their views with research evidence.

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2 What value do you think grades (specifically 100%) hold for students? Most students would see 100% as unobtainable. To get an A grade or even A* you generally only need to get around 85% and it is very rare in all of the school I have taught in that a child gets 100% in their exams (I have worked in both high achieving and poor achieving schools). question

3 Do you think this changes as they mature? I think students tend to become more confident in their abilities as they move into sixth form and they become more aware that their grades in their A-levels will directly affect their future (as in what Uni they can go to) and they are more likely to start aiming for 100% in their assessments. Getting a 100% becomes a lot more significant as they grow older, in my opinion.

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4 Do you think that 100% is a fair equation (holds enough/ too little value) to the learning required to get it? That depends. If the assessment/test that is set is only covering basic details that your students should all know well, then by them all getting 100% is likely to give them a false sense of success. This may lead to them thinking they are more able than they actually are and may lead them to revise question


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less for the true assessment. If an assessment/test is truly reflective of the exam they are going to sit and they get 100% then it shows that they have developed the knowledge, understanding and skills required by that exam board for them to get everything right, in their eyes. However, each exam board has a different idea about how to assess students so getting 100% in one exam board does not mean the student would get 100% under another. So do I think 100% is a fair equation, no. A lot of BTec qualifications, getting 100% means being able to regurgitate what is written in a textbook and making it into coursework. Students generally copy out whole units in their own words. They do not have to work half as hard as A-Level equivalent, yet they give the same amount of Uni points. 5 What affect do you think grading students has on the students. For example if it is possible/impossible to obtain 100% at school what does this teach/suggest to students about life? Grading students can be motivating for the high achievers and demotivating for the low achievers. Grades are openly shared and known within school classes and some students have to work very hard just to achieve the lower grades, while other students do not have to work as hard and they always achieve the top grades. If a student knows that working hard will get them to the top of the class, then they have a reason to work hard, but some do not have the capability to ever be top of a mixed ability class. This is partly why a lot of subjects are split into ability groups. So that the lower ability students have a chance of being top of the class, even if it is with a lower grade, it can still be better than all of the other lower ability students. This helps to keep them motivated and give them the sense of achievement. It is unusual to achieve 100% but it is not impossible. I think this is reflective of real life so I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing. I think most people are happy to work at around 80%, as in, be good at your job but there is always someone who is better. Those who are perfectionists and are only happy with 100% are usually the people who are very successful and are the elite (athletes, entrepreneurs etc) who are willing to make big sacrifices to be that successful. question

6 What do grades promise students? Good grades offer students rewards for their hard work and success. This is certainly true in the short-term and students will celebrate good grades and this question


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will lead to success at accessing the courses they need within school and sixth form. The problems start to occur once they leave school/ sixth form. With the current economic climate, having good grades no longer means you will definitely get a place in Uni and does not definitely secure you a job even if you are lucky enough to get a degree. I think this is a huge problem that is very demotivating for a lot of students. They do ask what the point of them working so hard is, if they just end up jobless at the end of it. 7 What do you think the students would value higher the leaning or the grade? The grade. Students are taught from a very early age that grades are important and they must always try to get the best grade possible. To most students, learning is not about understanding new concepts and ideas, it is simply learning material to recall in a test, when necessary. Sad but true! question

8 Do you think that grades have come to stand in place of learning with students taking examinations and tests from a very early age? I do indeed. We put so much emphasis on a child's success in tests from such a young age that often they do not enjoy the learning part or even remember it very well once the test is over. Students don't tend to do extra reading around a subject, they only want to learn exactly what they need to know for the exam, and nothing more. Regardless of how interesting it is. They have such large quantities of information to learn that they only want exactly what is on the examination spec, so they have a chance at remembering it all. Assessments are 70% memory test and 30% application of knowledge a lot of the time. question

9 How do you value grades? I value them as a reflection of how much work a student has put in at home, independently. I can teach them all they need to know in lessons, but unless they go home and independently do the homework and spend time reviewing and revising the information they will not get the high grades. Students at A-Level who spend time reviewing their learning material each week are always the ones who do well as there is such a lot to learn. I also view grades as a measure of my success as a teacher as I am held accountable for the students grades. question


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10 In your opinion would it be possible to teach with out grades? It would be possible to teach without grades. I think it would be a much nicer and enjoyable learning environment if we weren't always focused on getting grades. The pressure would be eased off and students would just be learning things for fun, knowledge and understanding. It is possible to know how well a child is doing without using exams/tests. You can do this by simply asking questions and getting students to explain things to you or even getting them to apply their knowledge to a situation. This will demonstrate their level of knowledge and understanding of a subject. question

11 Did you ever attain 100% in a field of study? How does this make you feel? To gain 100% you need to have a wide and deep understanding of the field of study that goes beyond the course details. I have no real feelings towards this. It takes up a lot of time and dedication to attain 100% so those that do, deserve the credit they get for it. question

12 Did you have to study and achieve grades in order to obtain your current position? What do your grades mean to you now? Yes, I had to study for many years. At GCSE age I was not too fussed about my grades. I was happy if I did particularly well but I was happy to be middle of the class and felt no pressure to work harder to achieve the best I could. At A-level I became more focused on my grades as I needed good grades to get to Uni so I worked harder. By the time I got to Uni I was much more focused and worked hard to achieve and be successful, the same was true for my teacher training. Good grades mean success to me. question

13 Do you think that it is possible to achieve 100% at life? If so how? If not why? I believe it is possible to be 100% at some things but not all things at once. Quite often you have to sacrifice home life if you want to be successful at work, for example. Maybe if you keep things simple it can be, but in our life styles today, it is a constant juggling act to be everything to all people (a good girlfriend, friend, employee, sister etc.) I could not be 100% in all aspects of my life. question

14 How do you feel when people use the phrase 110%? I think it is daft and completely misses the point of 100% meaning the best. Saying 110% means that 100% is no longer considered the best, and therefore takes away it's value in that situation. question


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Name Age Studied Occupation

Canan Kircin 23 Bsc(Hons)Mathematics , PGCE Mathematics Teacher at Secondary School

1 As a mathematician what does 100% mean to you? 100 percent means the maximum that can be achieved or in terms of proportion to the whole of something. It means in an exam, answering all the questions correctly. question

2 Is it possible to be achieve 100% in mathematics? As in are there always fixed answers - you are either right or wrong? It is possible to achieve 100% in Mathematics. Through out my studies in Mathematics starting from GCSE all the way to University, I have received 100% one time only. It is very hard to achieve but not impossible, I believe like in many other subjects. Early years of studying Mathematics, doing GCSE and A-Level topics there are only fixed answers. So when you have an end of topic test for example of 10 questions, if you achieve 100% this is the maximum for that particular test. However this does not necessarily mean that you understand the topic in depth but just learned how to answer certain types of questions. When you come to University, achieving 100% gets a lot harder as there are more open ended questions which will want you to analyse your findings and interpret your results. Even if you don’t get full marks on a question it doesn’t mean the answer is wrong you can still get marks for using the correct methodology so there are not always fixed answers and when there isn’t, it is a lot harder to achieve full marks. This can give more opportunity to gain marks through stating opinions and exploring ways which may not necessarily be right but they get points for demonstrating their understanding of the subject. Depends on the individual whether they favour closed or open type questions, this will effect their chance of achieving 100%. question

3 As a maths teacher what value do you think grades hold for students? What affect do you think grading students has? From a teachers’ point of view, grading is important because it helps us to understand what level students are working at and what set you should question


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put your students in and hence what level of paper they will sit. As a teacher, I know that this might sometimes not be fair to judge someone’s ability on the basis of one test results but if you can imagine how many classes and how many students in those classes need to be put into groups of similar abilities to best aid their learning, this method is only a quick, simple and most general way of doing that. Plus these days tests are held on a more regular basis and at the end of each lesson students and teachers both evaluate how the lesson went. This is a way of testing students’ levels as well so if a student did poorly in an exam but is performing exceptionally well in lessons, he/she will be moved up a class. They won’t be held back just because they did not achieve a certain grade in the test. I don’t think grading system is as important from a students’ point of view and sometimes it can be disheartening to know that you are only working at a low level but this is the only way to set targets for those students to improve. And in most cases students generally are driven by this to do better. Teachers can help pupils’ understand what they need to do in order to achieve the next level and they should always give feedback at their test or exam results. They can not just say to someone you are working at level 3 work harder. They should provide list of points and different types of questions in order to achieve level 4 and guide them throughout. At the start of each lesson teachers are advised to write down the learning objectives and the level and at the end of lessons, plenary are a must. Plenary is a very quick way of judging pupils’ progress to see how well they understood the lesson. Plenary examples include; smiley faces, traffic lights and 3 star wish. Teachers plan and adapt their next lesson depending on the plenary and evaluating the previous lesson. 4 Do you think this changes as they mature? I think that grades take on more importance to the student as they go through their education as it effects what they can go on to do after that stage of education. For example a students GCSE, A-level or degree grading will me much more important to them than what level they are graded up to year 9. question

5 How do you feel when people use the phrase 110% i.e. I gave it 110% (or any figure over 100%)? I think it’s a fair way of expressing that I did everything I could. So saying I gave my 100% is a question


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fair expression if they are being truthful. I disagree with people when they say, I gave my 110% because this is incorrect term of use. It is impossible. But when comparing results, you can for example say, sales have increased by 110% from last year. i.e. Last year sales = 50 This year sales = 105

6 Did you ever attain 100% in a field of study? It is possible/ impossible to obtain 100% at school what does this teach/suggest to students about life? Yes I have, only once on a GCSE level Mathematics test…It was on an algebra topic. Algebra is my favourite field of Mathematics. Back then as a student I knew that I gave 100% and could not possibly achieve more at that stage and was happy with this. I believe there is only certain amount of information is accessible to students at different stages. But I was aware that in further education, I would come across algebra again and there is always room for improvement and I think this is the key. Teachers need to explain that once you gave 100%, you don’t just stop working. You can always go onto achieve more. question

7 Having completed a degree and a PGCE what value do your grades know hold for you? I only got a 2:2 and that was enough to enrol on a PGCE course. If I did get anything below to be honest, I would have seen my degree as pointless as many jobs in maths related fields require at least 2:1. In my case I was lucky as Teacher training required minimum 2:2. You either pass or fail a PGCE and I passed. I feel very proud of both of my grades. question

8 Do you think that it is possible to achieve 100% at life? If so how? I’m a perfectionist. And I am never 100 percent happy with things and I believe there is always room for improvement. When I had a great lesson teaching in a class and everything went according to the plan, I can still think of different ways of approaching students and different ways of questioning. I am the same when it comes to my dancing. Others may think that I performed so well, but I will always notice the little mistakes that I have done or will never be happy with my choreographies so will keep trying different moves. question


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Name Age Studied Occupation

Catherine Eland 31 BA(hons) textiles at Goldsmiths; PGCE at UWIC and MA in Printing at Camberwell Secondary school teacher of Art

1 What does 100% mean to you? Full marks. It's a bit of a weird question. I have to be honest with you. It is like what does a table mean - it is a very subjective a question. 100 percent means full marks, it is complete.

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2 Is it possible to be achieve 100%? As in are there always fixed answers - you are either right or wrong? Well you are able in some situations – like in a driving test or multiple choice exam. You can as well in art because you can go above expectations of the course. If you go higher than the qualification then they can, and do.

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3 Have you ever awarded 100%? If yes/no why? I don't know I have always had just grades. With major exams you never new what percent you had got you just got a mark. You do now. I think I might have got 99 percent in a Geography exam once.

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4 What value do you think grades (specifically 100%) hold for students? Do you think this changes as they mature? Younger students have lots of smaller tests where you can get 100%. So the way education is set out makes it possible. As they grow up they get more complex questions which require them to expand and show their understanding. !00 percent means less as it becomes more about how they are doing. Are they doing well or not.

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5 Do you think that 100% is a fair equation (holds enough/ too little value) to the learning required to get it? I think that is a broad question. I think that it doesn't quite equate. It is about ticking boxes isn't it. So a student can be brilliant but because they don't tick the boxes they don't do so well. I find this a bit frustrating. For example if you know they have critical understanding but they don't explicitly show it they don't get a good grade. But this is changing there are more visual clues that you are allowed to use when you

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consider their grades. The problem is that 100% is about plotting students against one another in a particular field. It doesn't tell you how interesting it is. Someone can do very simplistic work and get a good mark whereas someone who does something more conceptual will not do so well. The type of grading systems I use don't seem to be able to take this into account. But the thing is, you have to have something to help you judge. Otherwise the students wouldn't have anything to work against. When I was at college I got a 2:1 and I have no idea why. I have no idea why I didn't get a first or a 2:2. Whereas at school you are shown where you are and what you are working against. It makes the students more responsible for their grades and at least they know where they are. 6 What affect do you think grading students has on the students? As I said it gives the students an idea about where they are of … the problem is that I find that school grades don't tell you how well you will do at university and yet they are used as entrance goals. I think students have a big shock when they go to university because it is a different way of learning. I don't think they prepare students to study in depth as you need to do in higher education. The students learn to be very good at doing what is asked, what they have to do – but when it comes to thinking for themselves they find it very hard. It is not learning for the love of it and that is not just for art but generally in all subjects. The thing is for students to get A* they do need to think beyond what they have to do to get the grade. The ones that are questioning and taking risks do that – and there are ways of teaching and encouraging that. For example encouraging them to do stuff outside of the curriculum allows them to think for themselves. It is not about teaching set things it is about learning and they therefore get the best grades – but this is not the point. The problem is that all schools have targets etc and their isn't enough time almost. I only get 1 hour a week for third years which isn't enough time to teach more than the curriculum. To generate thinking it also needs to be across the board. Students can't see that things can relate across subjects. When I have tried it hasn't worked because it wasn't well implemented by the school. More collaboration between depts is needed.

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7 What do you think the students would value higher the leaning or the grade? This is dependent on the students, the individual. They don't think about the learning they only think about the grade. They don't see the value in failure, that even if something doesn't work then they have still learnt something. Education is changing though, showing your working has an increased value. I try to reward my students who do take risks – not for doing something that is completely off the wall and just mad but for trying something different.

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8 Do you think that grades have come to stand in place of learning with students taking examinations and tests from a very early age? I completely disagree with SATS. I think primaries are under too much pressure to achieve grades and so they teach the test. It's an unfair pressure on the teacher and the students. I don't think I would be doing what I am doing now if my primary hadn't had the room to allow me to be creative and free to experiment. I also don't agree with entrance exams. They pigeon hole students before they have even had the time to learn anything or get started. I think this is sat because believe they are no good before they have even had a chance to try. They say class mobility is the worst it has ever been I think that this could well be the cause – forcing underprivileged children to the sides and not giving them the chance to develop.

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9 How do you value grades? The thing is about grades is that they are part of the world I work in. I have to deal with them. They are also how I am judged which makes me a little bit depressed. Sometimes you get beautiful work but it just doesn't tick the boxes. I do think this is improving, the exam boards are changing. It is become a lot more about the process than the outcome which I think is really important. More so at A-level, they don't have time at GCSE.

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10 In your opinion would it be possible to teach without grades? Are there methods of teaching that does not require grading? I don't there has to be some sort of formality in order to have standards. You don't always have great teachers – so you have to have a system that unifies a mass of people. I think fundamentaly – like in your lesson you could do it. You could teach to encourage understanding as opposed to outcome. But that is on a smaller scale – the system is so big.

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11 Did you have to study and achieve grades in order to obtain your current position? What do your grades mean to you now? The thing is they are just a stepping stone. You always place less value on the one that has gone before. No I have no emotional attachment now to subjects I once loved. I think that education is set up for a particular type of learning and values. It does not value all things equally and consequently students that don't fit into that value system are not valued. Like for example the bloody education minister who said they should take all non-academic subjects out of the league tables – just emphasises the lack of value placed on these courses and the students that take them. Not everyone is academically minded but it doesn't mean that they can't create or produce something of value. Whereas schools that tailer their courses to their students will not have a high value according to the league tables.

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12 Do you think that it is possible to achieve 100% at life? If so how? If not why? Depends on what you value. The problem is that everyone feels that they need to do more – well I certainly do. I don't feel completely satisfied with every aspect of my life but I think that has something to do with age.

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13 Any other comments? Most students I find don't really worry about percentage they only want to know where they are. I think they find grades reassuring – it's like a solid thing that is tangible. Grades help them with confidence. I also think that maybe it is not even what they get that is important to them. That it is more about recognition for what they have done – that it is being looked at. They get really upset if you don't grade their work. A problem is that everything is very now focused. They don't do anything for the love of learning or for the sake of it it has to have some sort of outcome or purpose. For example a lot of the students are going on study design and not art because it has a clearer career outcome. Everything has become very career specific. It is sad really that everything is about money. Also another thing is that if the students get unconditional offers from the universities they have applied to it is like signing the death warrant for the art department. They literally stop working if they don't have to get a grade.

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Without being immediately obvious motorcycle maintenance never seems to be to far away when considering grades and my study of perfection. Studying to get grades was such a large part of my life, and my belief in them was so absolute that I didn't consider actually needing any kind of plan. I believed in getting the grade and that was the key to getting what I wanted in the future. We are taught that grades are a promise of a better future and learn to live in expectation of something promised rather than finding what we enjoy. Which ironically is one of the Greek interpretations of perfection - being true to one's true calling and following it. However, it has taken me a long time to discover this because I have been to blinkered by grades. Before exploring grades I interviewed my dad about his Norton Commando motorbike explore the values that the machine embodied that made it more perfect for him than a modern bike. Clearly I am not the first person to make this connection between bikes and the qualities of value, worth and education, Robert Pirsig did it first. Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values a novel obsessed with the concept of value with an extensive section of education. This book had such resonance for me when I read it that I feel that it would be wrong to reiterate that points it makes.

Pirsig explores the meaning and concept of quality, a term he deems to be undefinable. Pirsig's thesis is that to truly experience quality one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation. According to Pirsig, such an approach would avoid a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction common to modern life. He applies this philosophy to education and suggest that the solution to student apathy and drop outs rates is to introduce a system where students are at university because they want to learn. The narrator proposes that the solution is introduce a system where students do not earn a degree and their is no grading system imposed on their studies. Under this system there is no extrinsic reward for study and consequently the students whose hearts are not truly in their studies will drop out. Only students who have a genuine desire to learn will therefore pursue study as their is no other reason for them to be there. This attitude towards grading would certainly have saved me a lot a of time and money had it been in place when I went to university the first time. My first degree in English was undertaken simply because it was the next step, the thing too do. Consequently I didn't get much out of it. Having returned to university to pursue a course in later life, knowing that it is what I want to do has entirely changed my attitude towards my studies.


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Extract in full from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

[His] argument for the abolition of the degree and grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, "Of course you can’t eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that’s what we’re here for."

Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or events would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment completed adequately.

She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.

Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent lectures which presumed he’d completed the assignment might be a little more difficult to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be dropped. Again no penalty.

The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge the grade was supposed to represent.

In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he would see he wasn’t learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no penalty would be attached. But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody’s part, would have flunked


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himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. A large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned. This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the system", is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view, but it’s not the [true learning]’s attitude. [True learning]’s attitude is that civilization, or " the system ", or "society", or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man. The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he’d abandoned, in what used to be called the "school of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that’s what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d found his level. But don’t count on it. In time six months; five years, perhaps a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shop work. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become re-awakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He’d think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn’t have the theoretical information, he’d

now find a brand of theoretical information which he’d have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering. So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He’d be a knowledgemotivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He’d be a free man. He wouldn’t need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He’d be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they’d better come up with it. Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn’t stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he’d see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would be likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren’t directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn’t be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.

A revolutionary idea or a bad trip from the seventies with no place in today's education system?


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The relevance of this continued (apparent) obsession with grades is that their influence is felt a lot further than school and study. The way we learn to learn has an effect on the way we apply ourselves for the rest of our lives. If we cannot learn to motivate ourselves without having some sort of reward at the end we are no more than performing monkeys doing tricks for titbits. Furthermore if education is essentially preparing you for work if we could find a way to make education rewarding perhaps it would be possible to find a way to make work more rewarding too. As rewarding work promotes motivation this would benefit both employees and employers. Chapter three explored how extrinsic rewards such as grades can actually have a detrimental effect on learning and motivation to study. It therefore follows that the same is probably true of the work place. However here grades are replaced by such tangible rewards as deadlines, surveillance, evaluations and of course pay. These extrinsic rewards again tend to diminish feelings of autonomy, prompt a change in perceived locus of causality from internal to external and undermine intrinsic motivation. In contrast, some external factors such as providing choice about aspects of task engagement tend to enhance feelings of autonomy causing an increase in intrinsic motivation.

Rewards can work but only in very specific circumstances. Namely, when rewards are given independent of specific task engagement or when the rewards are not anticipated for example unexpected bonuses. Only when their is no causal link can extrinsic motivators not undermine intrinsic motivation. It has been shown that feelings of competence as well as autonomy are important for intrinsic motivation. Studies have shown that optimally challenging activities were highly intrinsically motivating and that positive feedback facilitated intrinsic motivation by promoting a sense of competence when people felt responsible for their successful performance. Further, negative feedback which decreased perceived competence was found to undermine both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, leaving people amotivated (lacking in all kinds of intention to do work). Basically people need to feel competent and autonomous to maintain their intrinsic motivation. Satisfaction of these two needs is also necessary for internalisation (of extrinsic motivators) to operate effectively, but a third basic need, the need for relatedness it is also crucial for internalising. When peoples' satisfaction of the needs to be connected to each other and to be effective in the social world support people's tendency to internalise the values and regulatory processes that are ambient in their world.


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It is quite simple really, to get people to work or study well they have to do it on their own volition. If you pander to what we, as humans desire; namely autonomy, competence and relatedness then you will have the perfect organisation or business. If you promote satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs will enhance motivation and this will in turn yield the important work outcomes of effective performance, particularly on tasks requiring creativity, cognitive flexibility, and conceptual understanding; job satisfaction; positive work attitudes; and well being. Work will become a ‌


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Given that we have demonstrated that extrinsic goals are less likely to promote well being than intrinsic goals, it may seem rather puzzling that extrinsic goals nevertheless seem so prevalent in the world. That is, if the goals of consumerism, status seeking, and appearance tend to be associated with such problematic outcomes, then why does the modern world seem so full of extrinsic concerns? What factors conspire to push people towards the extrinsic goalstrivings that ultimately are unlikely to benefit their own happiness or well being. Could it be that from a young age we have been trained to believe this. Trained to believe that extrinsic rewards (to start grades at school and then a salary) get you what you want. Our education system was born from capitalism's need for effective workers it makes sense that it should feed itself in the process. I think the whole system is set up to aid not the individual, this it only portends to do, but in actual fact it aids the system. It's a cyclical system that does its best to ignore the needs and desires of the individual. Put another way the economy grew and needed people who could work in it so education and grading (or selecting) students was introduced. This system taught people that extrinsic rewards were what they wanted in life and so they turn to the very economy that created them. The system can then repeat itself ad infinitum. To break this cycle and find

our way back to ourselves we would need to break up the entire system and this seems hardly likely to happen any time soon. However, it makes you wonder how long it will take before we break and start to look at what we need for happiness rather than what we think we need. It is a sad thing to realise that we all have to potential to be happy but seem oblivious to the possibilities. One possible explanation for this is from an evolutionary perspective. It is likely that status, looks, and wealth may have offered important short term means of countering threats to security and survival in our evolutionary past and thus people may be somewhat "hard-wired" to orientate towards extrinsic goals in times of uncertainty. Further, the feelings of anxiety resulting from threat may lead individuals to lose access to extended self representational systems thus preventing them from thinking clearly about pursuits that would be meaningful or growth-promoting. As a result, threats may lead individuals to be more likely to seek the quick fixes promoted and glorified by contemporary media and culture that they would were they to engage in thoughtful consideration. If we are hard wired to respond to threats from any source in an unhelpful way the solution would be to minimise the threat. Unfortunately today's threats seem to originate from the same source that we look to for a solution an unfortunate case of Catch-22.


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Amabile, T. M., and Hennessey, B. A., 1998. 'Reward, Intrinsic Motivation and Creativity', American Psychologist, June, pp 674-675 Amabile, T. M., Hill, K. T., Hennessey, B. A., and Tighe, E. M., 1994. 'The Work Preference Inventory: Assessing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivational Orientations', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(5), pp. 950-967 Biggs, M., and Kamber, R., 2004. 'Grade Inflation: Metaphor and Reality', Journal of Education, 84(1), pp. 31-37 Cullen, F. T., and Cullen, J. B, 2001. 'The Effects of the Use of Grades as an Incentive', The Journal of Educational Research, pp. 277-279 Deci, E. L., and Gagne, M., 2005. 'Self-determination theory and work motivation', Journal of Organisation Behavior, 26, pp. 331-363

Gipps, C., 1999. 'Socio-Cultural Aspectrs of Assessment', Review of Education, Vol. 24, pp. 355-392 Kirsher, B., and Michaelides, M., 2005. 'Graduate Attitudes toward Grading Systems', College Quarterly, 8(4) Kasser, T., and Sheldon, K. M, 2008. 'Psychological threat and extrinsic goal striving', Motivation and Emotion, 33(1), pp. 37-45 Lanphear, J., 1999. 'In Support of Grading Systems', Education for Health, 12(1), pp. 79-83 Lotto, E., and Smith, B., 1979. 'Making Grading Work', College English, 41(4), pp. 423-431 Pirsig, R., 1984. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence: An Enquiry into Values, Bantam Publishing, New York

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., and Ryan, R. M., 2001. 'Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again', Review of Education Research, 71(1), pp. 1-27

Stergiopulis, C., Triantis, D., Tsiakas, P., and Ventouras, E., 2010. 'Comparison of examination methods based on multiple-choice questions and constructed-response questions using personal computers', Computers & Education, 54, pp. 455-461

Docan, T. N., 2006. 'Positive and Negative Incentives in the Classroom: An Analysis of Grading Systems and Student Motivation', Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), pp. 21-40

Stergiopulis, C., Triantis, D., Tsiakas, P., and Ventouras, E., 2011. 'Comparison of oral examination and electronic examination using paired multiple-choice questions', Computers & Education, 56, pp. 616-624


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