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Monday, May 13, 2013

McGeveran on Continuous Assessment

At CoOp, William McGeveran had a post last week on continuous assessment, rather than the traditional hundred percent final, in law school. It didn't receive much by way of reaction or commentary. Given a recent discussion here, perhaps that's for the best, because McGeveran, with candor but not indifference, notes some glitches in shifting from one approach to the other. (He's not alone in this. This is my second year of giving a midterm in con law and my first year of making it graded, and I'm still working out the kinks. My other courses already feature different kinds of continuous assessment.) But I think he's doing the right thing and that the pedagogical justifications for a single, all-in final are very, very poor. I hope more people will read and comment on his post. I will add that, as McGeveran notes, law schools themselves often structure their calendar and operations in a way that makes it difficult to move to continuous assessment, and that this is something law schools ought to act on.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 13, 2013 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

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For nearly a decade I have students write 4-6 pages answers to problems in my course on the Legal Profession. Students write 3 to 5 answers per semester, which count, on average, one-third of the course grade. I make it a practice to comment extensively on the papers and return the papers to the students within 2 days of submission, so the student receives immediate feedback. The results have been mixed. Some students are grateful for the opportunity to receive the feedback; other students resent having to do a project, any project, other than a final examination.

Using this form of continuous assessment has had no impact on student evaluations. Frankly, I can't say it has any impact on the quality of the final examination answers., at least none that I can discern. The grades on the written work product largely dovetail with the final examination grades. It's the age old reality -- good students do well regardless of the task, poor students, not so well. In my experience, student success is largely external to the structure of the course, the teaching methodology, or the form of assessment. So, why continue the practice? In the end, it's essentially an act of faith. I believe giving students an opportuunity to write and receive prompt critiques helps the student understand the subject that is being taught, even if that insight is not immediately validated in an examination answer. It would be helpful if the impact, one way or the other could be measured, but I doubt that is possible. In the end, the decision to engage in continuous assessment is a personal one that rests on a professor's intuition and perspective. At least, that's the way I see it.

Posted by: Jim Fischer | May 14, 2013 2:28:33 PM

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