Rush to Judgment


Rush to judgment

Judgment is a thorny subject for theological educators. On the one hand, we are told by James that not many Christian should become teachers because “We who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3v1).

And then, although we are told many times not to judge our brother, the whole assessment system we use does that in one way. Nor is it enough to say that we just judge academic attainment so such verses do not apply. If we have spiritual, ministerial and discipleship objectives for our teaching then in some ways we have the duty to make judgments in those areas as well – not least for the students themselves and also for their potential employers.

So we are under strict judgment ourselves and have to judge with grace and carefulness. This is not usually the atmosphere with which we approach the end of year marking, report writing and reference composing.

Like many reading this post, I have been judging for many years, as internal and external examiner in a variety of settings and as one who seems to be writing a constant stream of references for my ex-students. Here are a few things I have learnt;

  1. Done properly it is a time consuming, hard part of the job.
  2. Teachers ought to do the marking and assessment themselves, not leave it to other to “grade papers”. This is because in judging the students, we are judging ourselves. We can see how far we have been successful in achieving our objectives only when we take part in the assessment. Teachers are as much on trial as the students when we face a pile of scripts for marking.
  3. The distinction between formative assessment during the course and summative assessment at the end of the course is especially relevant for theological educators. The first is much more important than the second (although both have justification), we are in the business of forming students more than grading people.
  4. Numbers do not matter so much. It is always very difficult to justify giving a 62 rather than a 64 for a piece of work. But when we are judging ability in ministry or personal commitment to Christ, numbers become ridiculous. If you are marking a history essay, 50% is not such a bad mark. If you are teaching a pilot and half of the test is getting the aircraft up safely and half is getting it down safely, 50% is not such a good score.
  5. This leads me on to my central observation. We should remember that, in theological education, the easier something is to assess, the less important that something is.
  6. And lastly, this rule also applies to our teaching.  By all means read the student feedback forms but realise that they hardly touch the centre of good teaching. Love for students, love for subject, love for God, the presence of God within the teaching situation and the transforming of the spiritual and ministerial aspirations off the students rarely feature in the forms. But who will deny that these are in the centre of what we are trying to convey and to do?

Some of my statements above are a bit bold. Please judge me with grace and carefulness.

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2 Comments on “Rush to Judgment”

  1. William Ford Says:

    Hi Graham

    Thanks for this. A couple of thoughts in response (hopefully not inappropriately judgemental|):

    “4. Numbers do not matter so much.” In my limited experience numbers matter a lot to the students, both as an indication of how they are doing and as a possible component of their final classification which may open or shut doors for them. Perhaps they shouldn’t matter to the students as much as they do, but how else do we helpfully feedback to students (beyond the comments that we hopefully give with the mark, but which are probably suggesting how they could do better at that assignment rather than anything more personally formational?)

    More generally, I take your points about the difficulty of assessing the really important elements. However, in a world that is often validated (leading to strict processes on assessment), coupled with the difficulty of assessing the other (more important?) things, how do we work towards adequately assessing them? (For example in a previous college one module was ‘personal development’. We gave a grade on the A-E scale. But how does one grade personal development? It was certainly the hardest grade to give, which would support your point. But, any tips?)

  2. Campbell Hamilton Says:

    Thank you for this perceptive piece. It was largely due to a growing discomfort with the weaknesses of the marking process when placed against a process of discipleship that I was moved to engage in my last, aborted, area of study. This is one of the most important matters we face as educators. We have to find a way to robustly and honestly evaluate our students-and perhaps we should add ourselves and our peers in ministry, that is not restricted to academics, but addresses the whole spectrum of issues that feed into useful evaluation and personal development.
    I recently engaged in a very useful exercise with 9 other teachers which demonstrated the limitations of grading as we know it.

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