I wrote about testing a couple of weeks ago, but I had another conversation about it this past week, so I wanted to say one more thing. I was having a review session with students, and they asked me if I would count off for spelling an author’s name incorrectly. They actually asked if I would count off if they had one letter wrong. I assured them I wouldn’t, that I was more interested in their ideas than in having them memorize the spelling of authors’ names.
The way I view testing (or grades, in general) is that we put point values on what we value. That’s at least what we convey to the students. If we mark off for spelling, then we tell them that spelling is what matters to us. If I mark off for ideas that aren’t developed, then I convey that ideas are what matters.
Note that that might change from one class to another. I care more about such details in my freshman classes where I’m trying to get them to learn the basics (thesis, evidence, structure) than I am trying to teach them ideas about literature (though those are there, of course). When it comes to majors, though, I’m not sure why I would care that they can spell every author’s name correctly. If they don’t understand the ideas we’ve been discussing, correct spelling won’t get them very far. For the record, almost all of them spelled almost every author’s name correctly.