Friday, April 27, 2012

What the Hell Is Quality? -- Writer's Poke #386


We act like we can measure quality. In the game of education, we develop “rubrics” and then we measure performance by how well students measure up.  This is somehow supposed to be different from just giving out letter grades. Sure, an A can tell a student that she’s doing quality work, but it doesn’t explain why. The Rubric is supposed to break it down so that the student can see where quality lives.

But can the Rubric be used to help a student achieve quality? Accrediting agencies and politicians, and therefore school administrators, seem to have a fanatical appreciation for Rubrics. At Rochester Community and Technical College, for example, the Rubrics for Aesthetic Response, Civic Responsibility, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Global Awareness/Diversity are all available on the Faculty homepage. Anytime I wish, I can click on a Rubric, access a specific class that I am teaching, and rate a student’s performance in a number of subcategories on a 1 (Unsatisfactory) to 4 (Above Average). The data generated from the report can then be used to assess how well the course is working to achieve expected outcomes.

Actually, the Rubrics can be quite useful for summative course evaluation purposes. And as a result, I would go as far as to admit that having data to drive how a course is designed may be useful increasing the overall quality of the course. Will any of this actually help more students develop quality in their individual work? That’s the bigger question. No matter how well designed a class may be, some students will always do well, and some students will always perform poorly. Rubrics will always be able to measure the differences, but they will never be able to ensure that all students perform well.

Do people promote the salvation of rubrics because they have a strong distrust for just doing what “feels” right?

“Do or do not… there is no try.” -- Yoda

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