The more I teach, the more I realize just how much overlap there is between teaching and scientific skepticism.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about assessment lately. There are many different forms of assessment and reasons for doing it, but when you really look at it, assessment is just gathering evidence.
When it comes to grading, my approach is purely based on proof: “Did this student provide me with evidence that she can do X?” Depending on the evidence my students provide through my assessment, I answer my question with varying degrees of certainty and assign grades based on that certainty.
Recently, I had a student completely fail a significant graded assessment. The problem is, looking at his paper, I cannot tell if he has any understanding of the material at all. If I was to assume that this paper reflects the entirety of his knowledge on the subject, I could conclude that he does not understand it (and due to our system of grading would receive a poor grade). This seems to be a typical response from teachers. Poor performance equals poor grades.
However, that is a huge assumption to make. It is possible that he does have some understanding of the material, but could not convey his understanding in the assessment I provided. This is why my grading policy is entirely evidence-based, and the burden of proof is on the students. If this student could provide me with any compelling evidence that he does in fact meet the learning objectives I laid out, I would give him a grade which reflects his understanding. Unfortunately, he has not yet provided me with that evidence. He does, however, have until the grades are due to do so.