Most student evaluations are composed of both evaluative feedback1, which “judges student work,” and descriptive feedback, “which provides information about how a student can become more competent.” Studies have found that while students focus heavily on evaluative feedback, descriptive feedback is much more important for student learning2.
Consider one teacher’s experience:
“For the last three years in each of my mathematics content courses for preservice elementary school teachers, I have instituted biweekly quizzes that did not carry a grade. These “quizzes” were short written assessments that asked students questions similar to those that would be on the course’s summative assessments (midterms and final exams). They provided students with an opportunity to practice formalizing their thoughts on paper. I evaluated these quizzes for correctness by writing comments on the students’ written responses but never assigned a numerical or letter grade. The comments asked students to explain their thinking further and to clarify their mathematical language; they also affirmed students’ thinking when they provided thorough explanations, so that each student knew whether or not his or her understanding of the topic was sufficient.
…almost all students across all eight courses stated that they would not have preferred a grade on the assessment; they were able to focus on the feedback they received to deepen their understanding instead of being distracted by the (potentially poor) grade.”3
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics reminds us that assessment is an essential piece of classroom instruction and not just “the final stage in the traditional teach-learn-assess cycle” (NCTM 2014, p. 94).4
1Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE Life Sci Educ., 13(2). p. 159-166. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.CBE-14-03-0054.
2Pircon, B. (2019). The Importance of Feedback for Student Learning. The Graide Network. Retrieved 22 January 2021, from https://www.thegraidenetwork.com/blog-all/importance-of-feedback-student-learning.
3Swartz, B. (2016). Focus on Learning, Not Grades – National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Nctm.org. Retrieved 22 January 2021, from https://www.nctm.org/Publications/MT-Blog/Blog/Focus-on-Learning,-Not-Grades/
4Swartz, B. (2016). Focus on Learning, Not Grades – National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Nctm.org. Retrieved 22 January 2021, from https://www.nctm.org/Publications/MT-Blog/Blog/Focus-on-Learning,-Not-Grades/.
5Hattie, John. Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student Achievement. Retrieved 22 January 2021, from https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement