Student views of narrative evaluations

A survey of students at a California high school that does not use letter grades finds that students see narrative evaluations as stressful but also more useful than letter grades, reports a study in American Secondary Education.

Among the stressors noted by the students were the intensity of detail in the evaluations, teacher subjectivity and the demands of revisions. “We’re, like, picked apart, and that can be stressful,” one student wrote. However, students also appreciated the personalization and the feedback about how to improve.

The majority of students surveyed at the school (59% ) indicated they “really like” the use of narrative evaluations and many (46%) explained that they appreciated the focus on improvement.

“It helps me to pinpoint what I need to work on and what I can use to grow in this area.”

“The narratives really tell me what I do well and what I need to work on more. An A tells me nothing!”

When asked what they liked least about getting narrative evaluations instead of grades, students gave a variety of response. They said they missed knowing their overall GPA , that narrative evaluations were too hard to translate for a college transcript, that they were too vague and complicated and too confusing for parents.

Researchers surveyed 115 of 180 9th-12th graders at a high school in California that uses narrative evaluations and then also conducted 26 semi-structured interviews with students and with guidance counselors and six teachers. Progressive Secondary School is a private co-educational school that opened in the fall of 2000 and currently enrolls approximately 400 students.

Narrative evaluations are only one facet of the complex system of authentic assessment used at the high school. Students also receive standards-based marks (does not meet standards, approaches standards, exceeds turns, etc.) on the Seven Habits of Mind and Heart.

Teachers told researchers that narrative evaluations allowed them to take the time to reflect more deeply on each of their students as individuals but they also complained about the amount of time they had to spend on the evaluations.

“High School Students’ Perceptions of Narrative Evaluations As Summative Assessment,” by Sylvia Bagley, American Secondary Education, Volume 36, Number 3, Summer 2008.


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