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Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The Whole Class Does Not Deserve an A
I finished grading my exams this afternoon and posted the results for my students online. ST was sick last night and then I got sick, too, and so I had to cancel classes for today. That meant that my students won't see their actual exams until Friday (I was going to return them today), but they have already seen the grades. The grades were almost a perfect bell curve, with the average being a B-/C+ out of 88 exams. I was happy with the distribution.
The students are not, of course.
I have already received five emails from students complaining about how hard they studied and how "surprised" they were by the exam, particularly the multiple choice section. The exam contained no surprises. It contained a mix of general and particular questions, questions that would reward those who understood the broader concepts of the class and those who had done a close reading of the course materials. I think the students expected a multiple choice test to be "easier" than an essay exam. No one received 25/25 on the multiple choice exam; the highest grade, after I looked at the results again, was 23/25. When I made the curve for the exam, I acted as though the multiple choice section was out of 23 instead of 25, which raised everyone's scores slightly. But there are still three people who failed the exam, a handful who received Ds and low Cs, and then a huge clump in the mid- to high-C and B range.
Students, however, are convinced that any effort they put into the exam deserves an A. They are sure that if they work hard enough, and even if their answers are blatantly wrong, they should still get an A for trying. A B and certainly a C is simply unacceptable to them. On the one hand, that's great: they should strive for excellence. But the hard fact is that no matter how hard you strive for excellence, it is sometimes out of your reach.
Not every student deserves an A. Not every student will get an A, no matter how hard they worked or how passionately they argue in my office hours. I'm trying to figure out how to tell them that without making them bitter, but I suppose there's no way around it. Sure, I'd like to give the whole class As, to see their smiling faces looking at me when I turn the exams back, and to read the glowing student evaluations about how "fair" and "nice" I am. But giving them all As is, of course, doing them a horrible disservice. Grade inflation doesn't happen in the real world: a poor job results in a poor evaluation, no matter how much you complain.
When will they learn that? And why, oh why do I have to be the one to teach them?