Jack Schneider and Ethan L. HuttSep 22, 2023
Off the Mark
How Grades, Ratings, and Rankings Undermine Learning (but Don't Have To)
Harvard University Press 2023
Amid widespread concern that our approach to testing and grading undermines education, two experts explain how schools can use assessment to support, rather than compromise, learning.
Anyone who has ever crammed for a test, capitulated to a grade-grubbing student, or fretted over a child’s report card knows that the way we assess student learning in American schools is freighted with unintended consequences. But that’s not all. As experts agree, our primary assessment technologies—grading, rating, and ranking—don’t actually provide an accurate picture of how students are doing in school. Worse, they distort student and educator behavior in ways that undermine learning and exacerbate inequality. Yet despite widespread dissatisfaction, grades, test scores, and transcripts remain the currency of the realm.
In Off the Mark: How Grades, Ratings, and Rankings Undermine Learning (but Don't Have To) (Harvard University Press, 2023), Jack Schneider and Ethan Hutt explain how we got into this predicament, why we remain beholden to our outmoded forms of assessment, and what we can do to change course. As they make clear, most current attempts at reform won’t solve the complex problems we face. Instead, Schneider and Hutt offer a range of practical reforms, like embracing multiple measures of performance and making the so-called permanent record “overwritable.” As they explain, we can remake our approach in ways that better advance the three different purposes that assessment currently serves: motivating students to learn, communicating meaningful information about what young people know and can do, and synchronizing an otherwise fragmented educational system.
Written in an accessible style for a broad audience, Off the Mark is a guide for everyone who wants to ensure that assessment serves the fundamental goal of education—helping students learn.
Ethan Hutt is the Gary Stuck Faculty Scholar in Education at the University of North Carolina.
Jack Schneider is the Dwight W. Allen Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.