Biblical Insights on Student Evaluation

Throughout the Bible, we find principles of evaluation that can guide us in our role as educators. Here are a few examples.

Assessment & Evaluation

Throughout the Bible, we find principles of evaluation that can guide us in our role as educators. Here are a few examples:

Evaluation is for learning. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). A primary purpose of assessment is that students might learn, discarding error and affirming what is true and right (Philippians 4:8).

Assessment requires a standard. “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). This standards-based approach is exemplified in the case of Ezra, a skilled teacher, who was “sent by the king [Artaxerxes]… to evaluate Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God” (Ezra 7:14).

Avoid interpersonal comparisons. “They, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Endeavor to utilize criterion-referenced assessment, rather than simply comparing students with each other.

Incorporate self-evaluation. “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:28). As educators, we are to evaluate ourselves and the effectiveness of our teaching (2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4), including the way we approach assessment. We must also engage students in self-reflection and help them keep track of their own progress.

Exhibit impartiality. “It is not good to show partiality in judgment” (Proverbs 24:23). As educators, we must avoid favoritism on one hand and discrimination on the other, even in those instances that may seem innocuous. Scripture reminds us “that God shows no partiality’” (Acts 10:34).

Look beneath the surface. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Evaluation is not only the demonstration of knowledge and skill. We must also consider intent and effort, both “heart and mind” (Psalm 26:2). While there are certainly standards to be met, we must assess with an understanding heart (Ephesians 4:32). We must ensure that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Evaluate motive with care. “You [God] are the only one who can correctly evaluate the motives of all people” (1 Kings 8:39 NET). Given that God alone can correctly evaluate intentions (1 Samuel 16:7), we need the Holy Spirit to give divine insight. We also recognize that our assessments of attitudes and motives must be tentative, granting students the benefit of the doubt.

Balance grace and truth. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Our evaluation system and processes must blend grace and truth. In the absence of truth, there is no honest appraisal. In the absence of grace, there is harshness and discouragement. We must remember that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Provide encouragement. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). While we should avoid effusive generalizations (“You are so clever!”), praise focused on specific actions or attainments, or the demonstration of positive attitudes, is affirming. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Provide support. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Although the primary reference is to Christ, teachers can also use scaffolding to enable student success. This is particularly effective for struggling students, for whom Jesus seemed to have a special regard. Simply to have someone believe in you is motivating. Students are re-energized as we extend hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Evaluation has spiritual significance. “The Lord your God proves you” (Deuteronomy 13:3). In Christian education, evaluation must find in God its frame of reference (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Hebrews 12:23).

Author

John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, is Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as teacher and educational administrator in North America, Latin America, and Asia, and in elementary, secondary, and higher education settings. He is a friend of young people and a colleague of teachers.

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