I know what you're thinking - he's probably either exaggerating for comic effect, or he doesn't really want to learn anything new about pedagogics. SO; like Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue said back in 1988 - especially for you - here are two of the more significant bullet points we were treated to during a long day of pedagogic training (I slam-dunked in two more that I just made up - see if you can guess which ones are the actual bullet points from the course):
- Innovative assessment is about empowering learners
- Learning outcomes should be related to learning objectives
- Proper assessment improves learning outcomes
- Students should learn through assessment not learn to be assessed
If you get this right AND you can explain to me what "Formative evaluation" means, I'll buy you a beer or another alcoholic beverage of your choice. If you don't see what the fuzz is about since all the four statements made perfect sense and you use formative evaluation all the time, your medication might not be working.
The "student body" in this module was quite diverse, and fit very well with preconceived notions - there was the MD with who showed up too late and had to leave way early to play squash, there was the biologist with a Bergans windbreaker, five-day stubble, boots and a hyooge backpack, an art history professor dressed like a blind hobo, a marketing guy in a flashy suit, and an electronics/IT/physics guy who - in descending order of appearance - had Einstein-y, curly hair, coke bottle glasses, a very busy and colorful sweater, black dress pants, navy blue socks and medium brown shoes. Tremenduous. This dude should have been put in a jar of formaldehyde and studied for the benefit of future generations.
Being that I was in a diabolical mood - approximately equivalent to how you feel after four Long Island Iced Teas but without the relaxed sensation you get from alcohol - I decided that the best way of getting the time to pass by would be to actively participate in the discussion. This turned into a heated debate on several occasions, particularly when the topic of how grades are relevant was thrown open for discussion.
This debate got started by an MD who - in response to another course participant complaining about how her students would turn in formal complaints just for the hell of it unless they got an A - stated that "So why do you use grades at all? We only use pass/fail when training our medical students, and they demonstrate time and again that this system is sufficient." Dude was quite arrogant in how he addressed the problem, and since I was in my boredom-induced diabolical state, I couldn't let that go.
You don't need to know much about the standard grading systems to be able to drink fully from the elegance of my arguments here - it was a debate between a pass/fail at a limit of ~70% versus a letter-system between A-F, where A is above 90% and F represents Fail ( below 40%). What I said was the following.
"But what about other job markets than for GP's where there are many applicants per job - wouldn't it be good to be able to rank the applicants? In many branches of industry - plus when the economy is down - you've got 70+ applicants per job, so you can't give all of them a job interview. And so; if you draw the line at pass/fail and you give a "pass" criterion in the job announcement, then every applicant is gonna be qualified. So then what do you do?"
Now in a defensive position, the MD starts to attack the premise of a grade - i.e. a grades and understanding/performance are not related, and someone might have gotten bad grades because they were having kids and stuff, and having passed that stage, they're now working dynamos. Strike two:
"What the grades are a measure of is the student's willingness and ability to learn a new subject and demonstrate this aquired knowledge within a given time limitm which is quite pertinent to any job situation following higher education. Consequently, a student with all A's and B's has demonstrated that he or she is much more capable of doing this than someone with a consistant track record of D's and E's. And with all due respect, the odds of someone who consistantly pulls D's and E's being an Academic Behemoth are phenomenally low. The students go through - what - 30-50 exams by the time they graduate, and the odds of one student pulling all D's only due to bad luck or other causes beyond their control are infinitesimal."
Now the dude was starting to back down and mumbling about how in the medical profession it was as much about people skills and an ability to see the whole picture rather than just being good at each subdiscipline. So strike three:
"Please - its not as if you disregard grades, considering that in order to be able to get accepted into med school, you need to have a perfect average from high school. All you've done is to preselect the students with a high propensity for doing well on exams, which is exactly what you just criticized others for."
I'm not blind to the problems with grading students, and I've got no nostalgic reasons for holding on to the present assessment system - I've been through a number since my undergraduate days. What I do feel strongly about, is that we need some kind of objective ranking system that's more finely divided than the binary pass/fail, and unless you have a better system than grades for accomplishing this, then don't state nonsense like "We need a school system without grades". 'cause that just demonstrates that you've never, ever hired people with a higher education.