How Do I Grade This?

USMC 090501 M 2708O 008 - How Do I Grade This?

This is an appeal to all those psychometricians who ramble through the forest of A, B, C, D, E, All of the Above, None of the Above—all those who worship at the hem of Bloom’s Taxonomy, how can you best score the following test?

It may seem strange that a Humanist/Existentialist would find an assessment from the behaviorist B. F. Skinner relevant, but I would prefer a question like this from Skinner. “Education is what remains when everything you learned has been forgotten. What will remain with you after this course?” than all the A, B, C, D, E’s in the world.

So, in the final session of my latest Intro to Psych class, we went around the room and each person, much in the style of Somerset Maugham, provided a “summing up.” The second or third student to present, was a retread, 30-something male who had failed this class a year or so ago and was now retaking it. His education in the School of Hard Knocks had begun almost at birth, when he had been an abandoned, drug-addicted baby. His shared that he was finished with school and he couldn’t take the stress anymore. A general cry of dismay went up from his classmates.

The next student said, “You are not dropping out. I work two jobs, have a special needs son and I am attending full-time. You can do it!”

The potential drop out obviously did not know this and responded with amazement.

The next student, a young male, also said he worked part-time and went to school, so certainly he could do it too.

And the third, a female recently arrived from the Caribbean, said, “When we come here, we have to first learn English and you have been speaking it all your life. You have it easier than we do. You can finish.”

I was getting a bit concerned, because I wanted the students to express their own experience, not focus on this “drop-out.” As I turned my attention to him, I noticed tears in his eyes and intuitively understood that he was being smothered with more love than he had ever known in his life. I didn’t say anything and just allowed the supportive comments to continue, until he finally raised his hands in defeat and cried, “OK, OK I am coming back! I will complete my degree.”

Where is the rubric for scoring this?

Before today, I was probably going to give this student a C. I mean he had taken the course two times—certainly something should have sunk in. But now, what? He had certainly experienced a transformation. He was going to continue, the education system is all about retention, and so do I give him a higher grade to encourage him and to honor his transformation?

And, more difficult, what about the rest of the class? Do I give them advance credit in Abnormal Psychology? The primary lesson in Abnormal is that we only intervene when a person is at risk of harming themselves or others. Isn’t that what these students did? Intervene when a student was at risk of harming himself? Harming oneself is much more than suicide, cutting, addiction—harming oneself may include not fulfilling one’s dream, quitting before the miracle, limiting one’s earning power. The class showed extreme sensitivity to that sense of harming oneself. It was completely spontaneous!

So, later this week, after the Final Exam, when I collect the cards with blackened circles next to A, B, C, D, All of the Above, None of the Above, will I really be seeing an honest measure of what was learned in this classroom this semester?

I think not.

— Roger Cunningham

Today’s guest contributor, Roger Cunningham, attended Saybrook University, is an adjunct at Bronx Community College (CUNY) and teaches Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counsellor courses at NarcoFreedom in the Bronx. He runs a weekly Dream Table at BCC and a monthly Dream Table from his apartment. He is a co-founder of Encompass New Opera Theatre.


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