Performance Scores Must Be Honest

Performance in a class is defined as a figure or letter representing the total number of marks awarded in an examination or competition and signifies a person’s score. Marks must be true and that for us is the biggest challenge today.

In our quest to maybe encourage the student to perform or show that we as teachers are delivering better and to build the brand of the school where parents feel their students deliver better... the marking system is used and I dare say abused. We have today a system where we do not wish to hold back or what some say 'fail' a student and deny the promotion to the next class. The merit list is made only from performance scores...yet the schools and colleges often fail to spot the budding talent. Is the performance score/marks the only way to help an individual deliver? Is it a true measure of the capacity and capability of the student?
What is beyond 100% marks?
When we motivate by giving marks or scores for performance, we also end up harming the ones who are given low scores. The losers in the marking system are perhaps many more than the winners. Yes, you are justified in saying that we do need a system/measure to judge performance and marks is one such way to measure the learning outcome in the individual. It is imperative that we look at the 'sanctity' of the system and not get carried away by the simple need to win people with false promises. Of late in my travels and meetings with school heads, I had a meeting with the head of a school and she was very honest to say 'we have to give marks to keep parents happy, if we are strict with marking, the student scores fall, parents than feel that the school is not delivering!'

We today have gone a step ahead and have started publishing dubious listings and performance ladder for schools. The annual listing, the much awaited media hype and the sensationalism is all harming the education process, more than helping. Good work itself outshines the 'good word' sold to us by media hype. We may come to the top of the mind recall by using the annual media listings, however like a newspaper the value of the listings is very short lived. End of the day, it is good work that will lay the foundation of growth and development of young people with character. Today, it seems 'business first' and like the yawning gap between haves and have nots, the so called meritocracy is really killing learning and doing more harm as it is often clouded with a business motive.

"Some schools are liberal in giving marks while others are not. Will I not suffer on account of strict marking by the school of my child?" ~ a traumatised parent 

The hypothetical answer to this question - No student would suffer because of strict marking or benefit from lenient marking as the Marking Scheme for all Question Papers in all major subjects are being provided by the Board and the teachers are being directed to adhere to the Marking Scheme in each subject. However, to avoid such apprehensions CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education, India) has also undertaken a systematic collection, analysis and moderation of ‘Evidence of Assessment’ by analysing sample answers scripts, anecdotal records, student portfolios and teachers’ records. This exercise ensures that school based assessment is of acceptable quality.

Like the CBSE, the other national and state boards too have a policy and use various methods to correct the bias if any. To err is human, and this is the anomaly and the challenge in itself. The methods of providing grades instead of marks does seem a better way... the debate will go on and on! What is most imperative is that the assessment method should not be prone to mere individual value judgements.

National Foundation of Education Research tries to explain 'What do test scores mean?'
Many people will remember test scores from their school days such as ‘7 out of 10’ for a primary school spelling test, or ‘63%’ for one of their secondary school exams. Such scores are readily understandable and are useful in indicating what proportion of the total marks a person has gained, but these scores do not account for factors such as how hard the test is, where a person stands in relation to other people, and the margin of error in the test score. As another example, in a school test such as mathematics or English, we would not know how well the pupil is performing against National Curriculum measures.

Standardised scores are more useful measures than raw scores (the number of questions answered correctly) and there are reasons why such scores are normally used. The measure of the spread of scores is called the 'standard deviation' and this is usually set  for educational attainment and ability tests, and for many other tests. This means that, irrespective of the difficulty of the test, the students are given marks on a rationalised scale. This may help correct the individual bias in marking and is often preferred by the national and state level boards. Further the practice of external examiners, the random testing, the other secure methods all aim to remove the human bias. This happens at a later stage in the life of a student, what about he early years when the child is not a 'teacher's favourite' or not the most well behaved and is marked in very random manner?

On one hand marks may be a way to encourage competition, these on the other could also dampen the spirit of the low scoring students. The teacher must look at the method adopted very carefully and ensure that the marking is most honest, if this be the only way to measure the performance of a individual. There are countless stories of individuals who get poor performance scores, go on to succeed in life, become inventors, innovators and bring about a revolution in thought. The human mind is very complex, and this is the biggest challenge and will remain one always.

Another interesting debate evaluates "Should Student Test Scores Be Used to Evaluate Teachers?"
How much to credit—and blame—teachers for student performance is an issue that continues to confound the education field. To what extent is each student's progress directly attributable to the teacher's efforts? What other factors can determine a student's success? Is there a way to measure each factor separately, including the teacher's influence?

To clarify: We should focus on gains in test scores, not end-of-year scores. Any estimate of how much the student has improved while in the teacher's class must take into account the fact that students start at different points. We want to know how much a teacher contributes to student growth during the time students are in that teacher's classroom.

While such student-achievement gains are imperfect measures, the same is true of all measures. The marks given by the teacher are sacrosanct, are looked as the ultimate reflection of a students ability. It is most important that the teacher be accountable and their ability too is reflected in the child's performance. Perhaps the answer lies in giving due weight-age to performance of an individual as well as the ability of the teacher to bring about an improvement in the quality of learning and not just a measure of teaching efficiency in a classroom. If a teacher delivers a lessons and the child is supposed to comprehend, am sure both play an important role and will influence the final marks in the class. 

Strategies to Check Student Learning in the Classroom  IOWA State University, Centre of Learning and Teaching has published a good read on Classroom Assessment Techniques.  The simple way of assessing a person with marks is not really the best method, but is widely used as it is most practical and teachers per se are supposed to have the moral authority to deliver the value judgement.

Pic courtesy - The Fabindia School
If marks be the evidence of assessment, these must be most honest and this is where we as teachers need to be very careful. 
When doing our corrections, we often have the pressure of time, the lack of ability to comprehend the answer the student wishes to convey, the external environment around us and even our mental makeup on the day of corrections! 

You must reflect and do your best to be most honest, the performance mark must be used most judiciously to convey a message to the student as well as the family that puts in everything to help the child grow and succeed in life. 
"This is the struggle of today's system. Everyone thinks he/she is an educationist. But no one bothers to bring enjoyment of learning to their students. The curse comes from the Appraisals attached to money rather than appreciation in terms of recognition. Marks have a way to build certain documents for schools, but they tie us up in knots when it comes to following methodology of awarding them. 
CBSE has taught me one thing via corrections and that is to be at the child's side when it comes to correction. If we can come down to their level of teaching we should come down to their level of correction too. 
Continuous Assessments are actually the bane because they have warped people's thinking. Objectivity is a far cry and teachers end up being confused rather than being clear because they are not left on their own to decide how to judge! 
I agree with you that marking system gives out more losers than winners. Thank you for taking such pains to reveal the ugly as well as the fairer side of the system." 
~ Deepika Tandon, Principal, The Fabindia School, Bali Rajasthan - 306701, India
Performance scores must be used as true motivator and not a mere measure. The joy of learning and succeeding must not be robbed by the process of marking. Yes, it is a great feeling to top a class, it is only one person who will top, is that the only way to run the race of life? 

We must not simply see the scores at a point of time, but over a period of time and this is where we will find value and be able to develop a strategy to build individual performance. Value judgements in life are indeed clouded with bias and it is time the sanctity of the system is maintained. The real teacher will alone stand up and help the student grow in life, way beyond just gaining by high marks in a classroom. This will help make up for the lack of belief we have in the integrity of the performance scores.

The author of the article Sandeep Dutt takes the onus of the content and the opinions expressed are his alone. You may please email the author on for comments if any. For more about the author
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