December: Weighted assessments of cognitive skills inconsequential

Last year, the administration revised the school’s grading policy to reflect different levels of thinking. Each department chose categories, usually addressing knowledge, application and analysis, evaluation or synthesis, which are cognitive domains based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. In theory, weighing various types of learning and providing feedback on specific areas of the taxonomy are ideas that would definitely aid students’ education. After a year and a half of the policy in practice, it is questionable whether it effectively accomplishes its intended goals.

The primary deterrent to the effective incorporation of different skills in the evaluation of learning is that the school’s education is primarily focused on the lower areas of the cognitive spectrum— and rightfully so. An “application” section of a math test that requires students to input numbers into the formula ultimately tests whether students know the formula. Likewise, the “synthesis” section of a history test that asks students to respond to prompts in an essay tests students for their knowledge of relevant facts. Both types of assessment are not true application questions because they only necessitate students’ retainment of raw information. In fact, aside from differences in the difficulty of questions, the distinction between the differing levels of thinking can often be unclear or arbitrary. Many essays or project-based activities require multiple cognitive skills, complicating the process of weighing the value of each skill in such assessments.

Application of one’s knowledge in the real world is obviously important. After all, factual information is useless if one is unable to apply it to real-life situations. However, it is important to keep in mind that knowledge is just as important as the ability to utilize it. Though the rationale behind the school’s current policy is understandable, a high school classroom is simply not the best place for students to practice their application skills. High school students’ academic experiences are mostly limited to classroom walls and certain extracurricular activities. While students can actively pursue more application-oriented academics with their own initiative, colleges and universities provide greater access to such circumstances. College students can put their knowledge to use through internships, exchange programs and independent research.

In the end, there is no noticeable harm in the separation of categories. The policy neither cheats students of the grades they deserve nor hinders appropriate teaching in the classroom. At the same time, the system does not present any noticeable benefit. As long as students can be successful in classes by knowing the content of the material, the separation of cognitive skills will not be anything more than something students need to take into account when calculating their GPAs.