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Head to Head: Colin is against Differentiated Evaluation

Recently, professors and post-secondary institutions have come under a significant amount of scrutiny, especially surrounding assessment and teaching quality. Many have argued that the current model of assessment is insufficient in the modern day and have offered a variety of ways to address this “issue”. One of the solutions that has been proposed is differentiated evaluation.

Differentiated evaluation is essentially the practice that allows a variety of assessment methods within a class. It has also been associated with the ability to allow students to choose between assessment options that best suit their learning style and needs. It is hard to argue against the variety of assessments within a course (as no student should only be graded on multiple choice tests). The biggest issue of differentiated evaluation lies in the ability of students to choose different assessment options .

Providing students with a variety of assessment methods for one single assignment is simply unfair. Admittedly this opinion is rooted in reasoning rather than research, but it is inequitable to have someone in class doing a different style of assignment for the same weight. In discussions around this topic at the most recent OUSA General Assembly, an example supporting differentiated evaluation was given: that as opposed to just writing a paper, a student who prefers a creative method could put that paper online through a blog or by designing their own website. The argument was made that this would still translate the same thoughts and viewpoints, but it would also allow the student in question to demonstrate their creative side. The issue surrounding this example, and the idea of differentiated evaluation as a whole, is that this does lead to the chance of inconsistency in the marking. While it can be argued that the content will be evaluated in the same way, it is hard to say that a regular paper printed in size 12 Times New Roman font will be assessed the same as if that paper was put onto a website with a creative background and the potential of having different tabs for the different sections. I would personally find the creative aspect more visually appealing, and that would probably be reflected in my marking. Comparing a standard paper to having the same content on a website is just one example, however it is examples like that that lead me to be opposed differentiated evaluation. I understand that the learning outcomes are the same, and the professor is looking for the same type of content, however it is of my opinion that all assessment for the same portion of the course should be equal across the board, unless you require certain accommodations.

It is also my opinion that by providing differentiated assessments similar to that mentioned above does not prepare the average student for everyday life. For instance, let’s use my current job as Chair of the Board & Chief Governance Officer for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union. Currently, I am doing a governance review across Ontario to compare and contrast different governance models. I have been asked to deliver a written report to a subcommittee based on the findings, so we can assess and decide whether our governance model is effective for our style of an organization. The committee is looking for a written format, similar to that of an essay. Using our previous example, if I were to present the report to the committee in the form of a website, they would most likely look at me and point out (accurately) that wasn’t what they asked for. In the working world, an employer will most likely ask you to do something in one way, be that a memo or crafting a memorandum of understanding, and you will have to do it that way.

The previous example can also be tied to the weakening of the value of that institution’s education. By accommodating students through various methods of assessment, the instructor allows the students to play to their own strengths. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to take courses where I don’t have to write tests; however, by allowing students to always play to their own strengths and not learn how to adapt and overcome certain difficulties, the instructor could risk the possibility of grade inflation, as well as having their students be woefully insufficient in other key skill areas. These two issues could lead to employers potentially seeing graduates from that institution as less valuable. Again, this is a hypothetical scenario, but the risk of this outcome occurring does exist when professors are always allowing students to choose a method of assessment that is easiest for them. If anything, it just removes opportunity for learning from the student, as they aren’t given the chance to learn how to improve their skills in situations that they aren’t as strong at.

The majority of research on these topics has been on implementing differentiated assessments in institutions. It is understood the viewpoint that students should be provided with a variety of assessment options, and this is not about opposing instructors offering various assessments throughout the course of the semester. Each portion of the course relating to a student’s grade should be the same for all students, unless they require accommodations due to accessible learning needs or other issues that arise.