Saturday, August 9, 2008

Grade compression at colleges and universities, II

It's inevitable that, the more students catch on that B's are the new low, the more fervently they want A's.
As the dual forces of student evaluations and cynical burnout continue to exert upwards pressure on faculty grading practices, wants becomes expects becomes deserves.

Only those few who believe that grades should still mean something, and that they should somehow reward those whose work is truly distinguished, get to see the somersaults that the mediocre majority will turn to argue for A's.

From two of my B+ students (all identifing details removed):

I am writing to you with concern regarding my grade... I was just wondering what areas you felt I needed to improve on to earn an A because I completed all of my work, papers and participated in class as best as I could have. Is there anything I can do to have my grade reconsidered?

-----

I just checked my final grade online and saw that I got a B+. Can you tell me the breakdown of my grades? Most of my problem sets were V+ [no, they weren't] and I attended every class and tried to participate in lectures. The only reason why I am asking is because I felt confident that I would receive an A in the course.

What surprised me about these two students in particular was that each seemed to be putting in so little effort (as evinced, for example, by their papers--thickets of typos in what looked like stream-of-consciousness keyboarding, printed out and never actually read) that I'd assumed they were at peace with B grades. It never dawned on me that they might be expecting A's.

At least as disturbing is the most likely explanation for this expectation: presumably, all their other professors are giving them A's--along with every other student who shows up and turns things in.

All the worse for those who actually deserve top grades--particularly the left-brained crowd whose greatest strengths are typically more in academics than in extracurriculars and other varieties of resume-stuffing, not to mention career networking, schmoozing, and grade grubbing.

1 comment:

Robert Bradford said...

As someone that is just returning to school after a prolonged illness I am very surprised how much things have changed. I am taking a British Lit course this summer and on the first Midterm I certainly didn't feel that I had done a very good job on the essay question, but I lacked time to fix it so I just turned it in hoping that since I felt like I did pretty well on the rest of the test that I would be able to get a B on the test. I surely was surprised to get the exam back with a high A grade and full points on the essay.