A post by a fellow teacher-blogger the other day reminded me of something I have been thinking about but couldn’t really put into words until after I read her post. She will be taking a National Certification Exam for Teaching soon but will not get the results until December. She was anticipating a long notification period and dreading the time spent waiting and wondering, month after month.
People, especially students, do not experience what it means to wait for results as much as we had in the past. Everything is available digitally, almost immediately. Your test results are posted soon after taking a course exam, the email or snapchat you sent is viewed and replied to immediately, and even some standardized tests such as MAP tests (Measures of Academic Progress) allow the student to see their score instantly upon completion.
Gone are the days when you had to wait to get your report card in the mail or in-person on report card day. The term or semester ends and the grades are posted online via a platform like Infinite Campus, D2L, or Blackboard. When it is the end of a semester you see what your work, or lack thereof, has done to your G.P.A. and class rank immediately! There simply is no anticipation. And therefore, I am going to argue that the value of receiving the results of student work has been diminished by this instantaneous gratification. There is no thrill in opening the envelope with straight A’s and showing it proudly to your parents. Likewise, there is no dread of receiving a poor grade, visible in the past from a lack of digitalized results. Now, it is posted. Whether it is seen or not, by the student or parent, is up to them. I worry about what this lack of anticipation or dread if that is the case, has done to our students and their motivation.
I know, I know. I have read many scholarly articles and well-meaning blog posts about the fact that grades are NOT motivators for most students. I have to disagree, I have personally seen how grades can motivate. And, even if I am wrong and grades do not motivate most students, what has happens to the significance of the end of a term grade when it is no longer celebrated upon physical receipt because it is just another entry put in the grade book by typing some keys?
Occasionally, it is not only the students who are not heeding the significance of grade reporting. Last term, one of my boys was .01 percentage points away from an A+ in one of his core high school classes. He had to ask his teacher if the grade could be bumped up the one one-hundredth of a percent so he could reap the benefits of his hard work. I would hedge a bet than if that grade had been manually written on a report card by looking at a hard copy of the grade book, he would not have had to ask.
I write from experience. The end of terms (4) or semesters (2) for my two boys still in high school come and go without any true marker anymore. Yes, there are finals. Yes, there are final grades and subsequent “report cards”. The report card postings are not even notable. Several days, to a week after the term end, the report card is posted online, without announcement to the students or their parents. The value and significance have been taken away because we have lost the time of anticipation – of when the report card would be arriving home in the hands of your student or in the mail for you to open.
Anticipation can be a powerful force. Years ago when I learned to drive, you waited to receive the results of your driving test. Now, at least here, the student driver learns immediately whether they have passed or failed after their DMV employee ride-along.
Previously, I have held several professional licenses. A registered nursing license was granted after taking a hand-written test that was only offered a few times a year and submitted to the NCLEX Board. You were mailed your license if you passed. You worked on a permit until the time you were notified about your exam results. My nurse practitioner license worked much the same way when I sat for National Certification as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I took the test, waited for the results, experienced anticipation – thankfully, not dread, and hoped I had passed. Keeping my job, at the time, depended on that certification! Nursing blogger, Marijke Vroomen-Durning, RN, pointed out in a 2010 post that new nursing grads are getting more and more impatient at having to wait several days for their board results. Several Days? How about waiting for several months? Many of us did!
If one wanted to experience elation following anticipation, one worked and studied for these licenses or entrance exams. If you found, upon taking the exam, you had not studied enough, you experienced dread. So, I think the instantaneous or near-immediate results of exams has caused the demise of anticipation. The period of anticipation allowed one to reflect and if the results were not what was expected, perhaps that reflection would serve as insight and/or motivation into how to pass the exam in the future.
Education has changed. The way we report grades and how students and their families receive notification of the grades are far different from how they were reported a mere ten years ago. If we are going to continue to use grading systems, we need to still make the receipt of those grades significant. We cannot let anticipation and dread meet their demise.