Temporary Signs of Progress

A cream colored billboard interrupts a cloudy blue sky. The billboard reads, Temporary Sign.

Another beautifully random temporary sign from TFL by WithAssociates on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA license

On Friday, I ordered Ellen Carillo’s The Hidden Inequities in Labor-Based Contract Grading (2021). It arrived today, and I read it quickly. It’s a short but very useful book. I was especially pleased to have some of the questions that I have about contract grading as Inoue (2023) defines it validated in Carillo’s argument.

I’ve been worried that I’m asking for too much work to earn the various grade levels. Admittedly, I’m at a point I typically reach when I’m working on assessment and assignments: Everything feels completely random. Why 95% for a B? Why all five projects for a C or higher? Why any of this? The only thing I can say is that I know why there are five projects–because that is set (more or less) in the department’s new course template. Everything else is just a well-intentioned guess.

I mentioned last week that from my perspective, some of the measures of labor in Inoue’s system have the potential for ableism. Carillo amplifies my concern, bringing in discussion of the inequality of using the number of hours of labor to measure assessment. I’ve been worried about students who have less time to commit to coursework because of other obligations (such as work, parenting responsibilities, and requirements of scholarships). Carillo addresses those concerns and further argues that different people need varying amounts of time to complete a task. What takes me one hour may take someone else two hours. She points out how this system is particularly troubling for students with disabilities, who may face “access fatigue” (Konrad 2021) and, therefore, may need more time to complete their tasks. See the concept of “crip time” (Price 2011) for more information.

Where does all that leave me? The randomness of assessment systems and the inequality of focusing on the amount of work students are able to complete land me back where I began. I’m no longer feeling all that confident about the grade expectations I posted yesterday. Asking students to do everything for a B feels wrong now. Asking them to do even more work for an A feels even worse.

Now I think these are the plans and questions for the Fall:

  • I’m rearranging the effort chart from yesterday to set most of the numbers back to the previous version, from the Spring 2023 course. 95% of the work is required for an A. 85% is required for a B, and so forth.
  • I’m still unsure on the number of major projects that are required for each level. I am (currently anyway) keeping the changes to the assessment of a piece of work to reduce some of the specifications grading I was using (Nilson 2015). Previously the system was all five required for an A, four for a B, and so on. What confuses me are the group projects.
    • Are all projects the same (individual and group)? So the scale from the Spring works as is?
    • Should there be some analysis of how much work each group member puts in to determine when a group project “counts”?
    • Is there a way to count the group projects AND require some additional project management assessment that counts separately?
  • Should I add some projects (like those previously required to move from a B to an A) for students to use to increase their grades as needed? Honestly that feels like extra credit, and extra credit is a move back to grading practices. Though if I’m honest, ALL of this is about counting things. Maybe they aren’t grade points, but they’re still numbers being counted and compared. I guess I’m leaning toward no on this question.
  • I feel as if I’m not assessing project management at all. As it’s set up, I’m assessing the product created by a group, but that’s not the same thing as project management. Even an unhinged and dysfunctional group can turn in a project that meets criteria. I hate to add more work to the course, but there needs to be some reflection of the group and report on its accomplishments.

It would really be nice to settle on all these aspects of the course. I think I’m off to research the assessment of groups and assessment of project management. If I can figure out those issues, maybe the rest of things will fall into place. A girl can hope anyway.