Teachers should not share test averages

Revealing class scores gives students wrong motivation for learning

Graphic courtesy of Jeff Zimpel

Earlier this school year, a teacher shared the lowest grade on the last test with the class. I was horrified, imagining how I would feel being that singled out student, knowing everyone else had scored higher than me.

However, this situation is not unusual. I have walked into classes with the mean and median test scores for each hour written on the chalkboard. I have wasted half a class period listening to generalizations about test performance. I have had teachers share how many students got A’s, B’s and F’s on a quiz while everyone looked around trying to count them. Why do teachers do this?

Average class scores are a useful tool for teachers, but sharing them with students is counterproductive and demeaning.

I believe a test serves two purposes. The first is for a student to show a teacher what information they have understood and retained. Looking at a class average for a test score and scores for specific questions enables a teacher to assess what their students overall have learned, evaluate their teaching effectiveness and make improvements for the future. In this way, average scores are useful to a teacher.

However, the second purpose of a test is for students to gauge their learning as well as evaluate their effort and studying techniques.

Upon receiving a graded test, a student should ask themselves how they did based on their own standards. Did I study hard and it paid off? Do I understand the material but my grade does not reflect it? Did I slack off and get away with it?

Getting a test back should be a learning opportunity in which students can see if they need to put in more effort in the future or continue using a certain studying technique. But when a student knows the class average, the focus shifts. Suddenly a test is not about what you learned but about how your score compares to everyone else’s.

When a student gets a test back after hearing the class average, they do not ask those beneficial questions that allow them to grow as a learner. Instead, they ask, “Is my score higher or lower than average?” Sharing class averages eliminates the student learning aspect of test-taking and replaces it with a comparison factor.

Due to the competitive nature of our education system, students and teachers alike have tricked themselves into believing they need to know where they stand in comparison with others. Contrarily, focusing on personal successes and shortcomings allows for a more productive learning environment.

For a student to know that they scored below average can be detrimental. According to a study on self-worth done in 2002 by the University of Michigan, 66% of students surveyed said their self-worth is based on doing better than others.

If students did not have access to average scores, it would be more difficult to compare themselves academically to their peers, thus eliminating this major self-esteem demolisher. Students would then have the opportunity to evaluate their self-worth based on healthier factors like character.

It is crucial that teachers keep average scores private, allowing students to focus on their own learning.

By Queen Sabine Spilling Beans (Sabine Peterka)

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