To become truly human means to become Christ-like, for Christ, being God Incarnate, is the ultimate human archetype. St. Gregory of Nissa teaches: “An image is only truly such insofar as it expresses the attributes of its archetype”. Teachers ought to remember that the ultimate purpose of education is to help students grow in their display of Christly attributes. Having been placed in such a position, the teacher should humbly follow the model of Christ the Teacher, Who not only constantly teaches His Disciples and, through them, the entire ensuing mankind, but also constantly assesses and calls for self-assessment of our own shortcomings on the path towards Him. Thus, teachers are called to assess where on the path towards becoming Christ-like their students are and to equally teach them how to build a lifelong practice of self-examination.
Grades are a modern development in the academic world, which, for the most part of history, has been functioning in a system of masters and disciples, where the former, having attained perfect knowledge of their art, were undertaking the task of cultivating the knowledge, skills, and dedication necessary for the latter to achieve mastery of that art. Under this system, masters trained disciples, who would endeavor to become masters themselves. To assess thus was a permanent feature of education, never divorced from the act of teaching itself or from the disciple. In the classical model, teachers, being masters of their art (Latin ars, artem – craftsmanship) and, having walked the path many times, know very well all the provisions needed and are aware of the length and conclusion of the path, its intermediary steps, but also of the dangers and the rest areas along the way. All these are representations of both scope and breadth of assessments in a classical school.
As a consequence, a teacher today should aim to assess in a similar manner, for a permanent truth is not subject to whims and changes dictated by the world. In a practical manner, the main scope of academic assessments is for the students to receive feedback about where along the path they are, what is coming next, what provisions (i.e. what concepts, skills, knowledge of facts and methods) are needed along the way, and how can they find those provisions. From this perspective, serving this purpose also serves teachers, who cannot guide those whom they do not know well. Assessments need to be done at the right time: both daily, through oral examinations, Socratic discussions, and conversations with the students, and periodically, through recapitulative oral and written examinations. In addition to that, assessments need to be built in such a manner as to discover the individual progress of each child, and to foster an inclination towards self-examination in the child, as the pathway towards mastery. To accomplish all that, feedback needs to be as detailed as possible (e.g. Review the possible functions of a noun in a sentence, or Try doing some timed multiplication drills), but also a challenge, a stirring of the mind (e.g. Does this word function as a noun, or as a verb? or I want you to correct this, paying attention to the rules of divisibility) and provided in a firm, yet loving manner.
Guiding students towards Truth can only be done by embracing the truth; which has the ability to set one free (free from the bondage of both lack of knowledge, but also of sin, for wise is he who submits all knowledge and art to Christ, God Incarnate). Cultivating the proper affections in students means teaching them that assessments are a gift meant to propel, rather than to deter, the same way confession, followed by metanoia, is a means of holiness.
PCA Academic Coordinator and Teacher