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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?
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 11/08/2006 05:53:00 PM  
5 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 8:49 PM, Blogger phd me said…

    Would it make you feel any better to know they won't listen to you anyway? :)

    I'm with you on this one. We actually have discussions in my class about effort - should it count; if so, how; what does effort look like, anyway. The kicker is, we're discussing the subject because it applies to the course subject; the students NEVER realize the discussion applies to them as well.

  • At 10:15 PM, Blogger Peri said…

    Who taught these kids that effort=A's? We're failing them by NOT being tougher on grading. Preach on, Sister, and hang tough.

  • At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i'm having the same issues in my class. i'm currently writing my dissertation and i actually made my intro class easier to make things a bit easier on me. my intro class is 110 students and i couldn't possibly give as much attention to it as i really should. nonetheless, i am truly annoyed when students ask me "are we getting out early tonight?" The grading things is also quite annoying.

  • At 6:05 PM, Blogger MusicalMom said…

    Good for you!

    I blogged about the artificial inflation of my grades and how easy State College is compared to Prestigious University. I've been doing about A- work, and I'm okay with that. That's what I've earned, and that's what I deserve. While I hoped for a better grade on a major paper, my 82% was justified (since I churned it out in a couple of days), and I accept it. However, my other grades are being inflated quite a bit. In biology it's to bring the class test average up to a 72%.

    While it's nice to know that others' lack of studying or lack of understanding, or whatever it is helps me, you're right--that's not how it is in the real world. I'm proudly a Generation Xer, but from what I've read, Generation Y struggles with that issue a lot...

  • At 6:30 AM, Blogger ZaPaper said…

    I got to see second-hand some results of new anti-grade-inflation policies at Princeton, where (roughly) no more than 1/3 of students in a given department could receive an A. It was interesting. It did not create the uproar I had expected, or a rush to attack or incapacitate the smartest kids in the class. In fact, some departments (e.g., philosophy) were already below the average! But it really hurt some of the Japanese teachers, who often had small classes of dedicated students who sometimes really all did deserve A's. I guess they were having the opposite pain as you are having.

    The root problem is really expectation, isn't it. I think the reason there wasn't a huge upheaval at Princeton with the new policy was because everyone knew that it was now perfectly acceptable to get a B or even a C. There was just an adjustment down of expectation, and no one freaked out. But I guess changing expectations takes concerted and well-publicized action from the whole university...

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