Tuesday, 10 January 2012


I often think one of the most difficult point of being teacher is a correct assessment. Now, at the end of the first semester, this is a real problem to me.

In my career as a teacher I went through two different assessment systems:
1) having to write reports of evaluation and 2) having to give marks.
It’s funny to change from one day to the other, but it’s the leaders of the education sector who decide.

What happened?

Many pedagogical books I read say writing reports could be much better, because reports are more personal, and help our pupils’ learning process. A report could be a summary about the development of the learners' competences and it helps raising self-confidence and motivation.

But in the practice? The National Core Curriculum defines the common content requirements and development tasks of public education.
As a primary school teacher, skills like reading, writing or numeracy are of vital importance in terms of evaluation. As there are different levels, there are different descriptions of skills.
We had pre-written descriptions (sentences) and we, teachers, had the opportunity to choose from different sentences to find the most appropriate evaluation for our pupils.
I often found that these phrases were not correct enough. Maybe the first part was good, but the following was not appropriate for my pupil. Sometimes I’d like to mix the phrases that could be found in the report card.
After I gave the evaluations to my pupils, parents came and asked me: ‘Great, but what does it mean? What mark would that be?’ It often happened that the evaluation of competences and skills were not obvious or easy to understand for parents.

Now we are in a period when we give marks again. We have marks from 1 to 5.
On the one side it’s true, now parents know what a mark means.
But there are differences...
I have pupils with special needs. If I give them a 3, it means – „fair, average”. But, for me it doesn’t mean the same: she/he did sometimes more than another child with the same mark in my class.
Numbers are very strict, don’t you agree? And.. what can we evaluate?
Take, for instance, test results. Sometimes it happens that when I correct the mistakes in a test, I know one of my pupils was just stressed or anxious, and even if he/she didn’t write the correct answer, if I could ask him/her again, I would hear the correct one.
So, of course I use more strategies, not only tests during the semester, and I try to give more than one single opportunity to them.

It is only, I didn’t find the best solution.

Marks or writing reports? Or something else?

What do you think?


  1. What I miss here is the moment you set your goals, not only as a single teacher but also as part of a section/group of teachers.
    In the beginning of a semester one should set goals who are clear to the students and/or parents. then the next thing what you do is to define how you are going to check if these goals are achieved; so you make a test/several test (what ever suits best in order to give you insight in the progress), Then you start teaching and the kids start learning untill the time for the test has come. then you can see from the results if and to what extend your student have reached the goals.
    This can be in words but also in marks. Mind that marks are not exact, even if you think so. Like you said a 3 is not always the same for everybody. But even if you start giving 3.5 or 3.6 or even 3.55 or 3.54 this does not help...
    So in my opinion it is good th=o have a mixture of marks and words, and always invite parents to show and share the works done by their kids and talk about it

    1. Dear Cees,
      first of all I would like to say thank you for writing a comment to my post.
      I agree with the fact that we should outline the aims to be achieved and the subject requirements to the parents and the students at the beginning of the half-year . I do this.
      We regularly keep parents' meetings and office hours regularly at school in order to inform the parents.

      On occasions like this we talk about conditions of improvement, the peculiarities of the following subject substance following, the emerging difficulties, the manners of the practice. Beside this the parents always have the opportunity to talk to the teachers, if they have some problems after the lessons or before the first lesson.

      I inform the children in all cases. They know when the will be asked to give an oral presentation or write a test. But I always try not to make them anxious because of the tests.

      Thank you for your opinions about marking. I think that the written rating and the marking may all bring up questions. According to my experiences those children, who have difficulties with learning, sometimes make more effort and work harder for a grade 3, than the other pupils., who can do well easily. So in this case the grade 3 is the result of hard work. This is the reason why I would like to tell, how valuable their work is.

      I was thinking a lot in the past days, what would be the possible solution in the topic.I think that we should write shortly next to the marks in a few words, what our student is very good at, and what are those things that should be practiced more.

  2. Hi Cees, I can tell you how things work (or are supposed to work) here in Italy.
    I've been working for the past 10 years in Lower Secondary School: we have a National Framework with set goals and competences for the different subjects and different age levels. Of course, they are flexible, so each teachers' team meets at the beginning of the year to adapt those guidelines to their specific classes. This first step usually works fine.
    The problem is in the next step: trying to agree on how to check if the goals are achieved and the competences acquired. We've never reached a real agreement. It's not only having different opinions on the kind of test our pupils should be given(some teachers think written tests are the key, others want oral tests, some want multiple choice questions, others writing essays... and then there's simple observation, and painting, and creating via ICT etc). That's easy, because we usually agree we should give different kind of tests to suit the different learners' styles and needs. The problem is assessing the tests. How to evaluate the results in a common way.
    So, in my opinion, it's not a question of marks or written reports: the core point is that different teachers have to give the same meaning to the same mark/letter/description.
    Otherwise, of course parents and pupils will be mixed up when all of the teachers have a different attitude towards assessing the students' work!

    So you're right when you say it's good to have a mixture of marks and words, and, more important, to keep an active communication: between teachers and teachers, teachers and parents, teachers and pupils.
    TALKING is the key word to me.

    Thank you Cess for your interesting remarks, and thank you for sharing your ideas with us


  3. Hi Monika!
    Thanks for this interesting reflection.
    In Italy, in primary school, we have marks + a written report. I think it works: parents and pupils can understand their level, and you can explain why they received that mark (what they're good at / what they need to improve). I think a mark alone can be very strict, as you point out, and pupils can feel "judged" in a negative way.
    How does it work in Hungary now? Only marks? Not even a written explanation/report?
    I'm curious about different assessment systems.
    Thanks again for your ideas,

    1. Dear Teresa,
      thank you for your comment and help.
      In Hungary actually we write reports only in the first class of primary school. (At the end of last school year -before changing in the system- we wrote reports as well from the first class to 4th class). Now we give marks again.
      I would like to write some words too, because I agree with you, a mark can be really strict.
      Hope to find a better solution.. I talk with pupils and parents to give some advice,help them with some ideas. Or and I like the situation - we talk about talented children. :-)
      Thank you for being with us, Mónika

  4. Hi Monika,
    I prefer marks to words, because they are simple to understand for students and families.
    Anyway, I agree with Cees: first of all we have to set our goals, then to agree on how to assess if and how they've been reached by each student. Done this, it doesn't matter if we use marks or words (or better a mixture of the two).
    Of course, the key point here is that the assessment system is clear for parents and students. So parents, students and teachers have to talk a lot to each other.

    1. Hi Tommaso,
      it's true, marks are simple,and are simple to understand for families. I teach little children as well, and I would like to write some words them next to the marks, it could be more personal for my pupils.
      I agree with you, it's important if the assessment system would be clear for parents and students. Now, we start a new semester, I will have new opportunities as a teacher to meet with parents.
      And, I will write about the new experiences as well).