Posts Tagged ‘grade inflation’

Grading and Its Discontents – You Are Not Your Grades

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This post is the final in a series of four.  In his article entitled, “Grading and Its Discontents” (The Chronicle, July 11, 2012), Ahmed Afzaal reflected about grading in ways that you may find helpful when you are discontented with grading.  To find out how to minimize discontent, he asked his students for their thoughts on grading.  The responses led to several suggestions you can use in your teaching.  The first suggestion was posted in May, 2013.  The second was posted in June, 2013.  The third was posted in July, 2013.  Here is the fourth and final of Afzaal’s suggestions.

You are not your grades. I want my students to avoid defining themselves in terms of a grade. I want them to know that grades represent nothing more than someone’s assessment of one or more instances of their academic performance. Given the nature of the grading process and the limited purposes for which it is designed, the grades they receive are in no way a reflection of who they are as people or even what they are capable of achieving in the long run.

Grades do not represent an objective measure of students’ intelligence, capabilities, talents, or potential, nor do they capture the essence of their character, soul, or worth as human beings. An A in a particular assignment or a course does not make the recipient a worthy person, just as a D or an F does not make anyone an unworthy person.

In discussing these matters with my students, my aim is to reduce their grade-related anxiety as much as possible. I believe that when students see their grades as pieces of information, rather than as external rewards or punishments, or as mechanisms of control, they are much more likely to discover the joy that is inherent in the very experience of learning.

Grading and Its Discontents-Via Negativa

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

In his article entitled, “Grading and Its Discontents” (The Chronicle, July 11, 2012), Ahmed Afzaal reflected about grading in ways that you may find helpful when you are discontented with grading.  To find out how to minimize discontent, he asked his students for their thoughts on grading.  The responses led to several suggestions you can use in your teaching.  The first suggestion was posted in May, 2013.  The second was posted in June, 2013.  Below is the third of those suggestions.

Via negativa. I want students to understand that there are certain functions that grading is not designed to perform. For instance, grading cannot measure a student’s effort.

Sometimes a student complains: “I worked so hard in this course and spent so much time studying but I only received a. … ” That student is probably assuming that grading is intended to gauge the time and effort that students invest in their studies—an assumption that clearly isn’t true.

Professors rarely observe their students outside of the classroom or lab, which is why we are in no position to judge how hard or long someone has studied. We can only assess their actual performance. A student using ineffective methods of study would have to work a lot harder and a lot longer than a student who is using effective methods. Similarly, a student who is trying to do multiple things simultaneously, or is being constantly distracted by technology, is likely to accomplish much less in the same amount of time than a student who is giving full attention to the task at hand.

Grading cannot measure a student’s progress either. On the first day of classes in any given course, some students are already ahead of others because they have a special aptitude for, or a particular interest in, the subject matter. And some students are already at a disadvantage: Perhaps they grew up in an intellectually impoverished environment, or their personal inclinations don’t match the subject matter of the course, or they bring to the class deeply ingrained misconceptions that will inhibit them from fully engaging with the material.

Typically, professors do not take such an initial advantage or disadvantage into account when evaluating students’ performance, mainly because such factors cannot be realistically quantified. Some students must invest more time and effort than other students in order to receive the same grade. That may seem unjust, I tell students, but it simply mimics the way “real life” functions.

Even academic performance in the form of exams, presentations, and essays provides the professor with no more than a cross-section of all that a student learns during a semester.

Consider this common student complaint: “I learned so much in this course but I only received a. … ” It is true that the quantity of what a student learns is one of the main factors that determine his or her academic performance and grade, but it is also true that not everything a student learns in a course can actually be tested, measured, and graded in a reliable fashion. Indeed, the most important skills that any student can acquire—abstract thinking, self-awareness, empathy, perspective, personal maturity, respect, love of learning, curiosity, and responsibility—are all unquantifiable.

I try to help my students realize that learning is its own reward. No amount of accolades, trophies, diplomas, and money can equal the worth of one’s actual learning. It is impossible to reduce the full richness or value of a genuine learning experience to something as bland as a letter grade.

How Can We Stop Grade Inflation?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

How can we stop grade inflation?  Just stop inflating grades!  I frequently return to a 2008 quote by Mary Biggs, which appeared in Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education.  She wrote that “the cause of grade inflation is the faculty.  We give inflated grades.”  Here we are in 2012.  We still discuss the grade inflation problem, but we are also still giving the same explanation:  faculty inflate grades.  To better understand what inflating grades does and does not do, check out a June 25, 2012 Chronicle article on the topic:  http://chronicle.com/article/To-Stop-Grade-Inflation-Just/132415/.

Why Faculty Inflate Grades

Monday, February 6th, 2012

In the 2008 book edited by Lester Hunt, Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education, Mary Biggs wrote that the “the cause of grade inflation is the faculty.  We give  inflated grades” (p. 112).  But, you might ask, why do faculty give inflated grades?  Peter Eubanks’ article in the August 9, 2011 issue of Inside  Higher Ed  offered three sources of pressure to give inflated grades.  Pressure from students:  students’ complaints about grades prompt “a nagging fear that minor grading errors have indeed been made and that the student should be given the benefit of the doubt.”  Pressure from administrators:  when faculty are expected “to produce good evaluations, [they can] feel a temptation to inflate grades to secure their own livelihoods.”  Pressure from colleagues:  faculty could believe that “if everyone else is giving out inflated grades, why should they be the ones to stand alone, only to incur the displeasure of students who may be confused by inconsistent standards.”  Finally, pressure to inflate grades comes from the faculty themselves: “efforts in the classroom have sometimes been inadequate, that poor student performance reflects poor preparation or teaching . . . , and that grades must be inflated to compensate for . . . failings.”  Which pressure do you feel most?  Eubanks’ full article can be accessed here:  http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/08/09/essay_on_why_faculty_members_participate_in_grade_inflation.

CITL Answers – November 2010

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Question: Grade inflation seems to be a hot topic these days.  Does it exist at Emerson and what can I do about it?

CITL’s Answer: There is a lot of controversy across the country about grade inflation. There are, however, no simple answers about its existence or what to do about it. Nevertheless, a commonly understood definition for grade inflation is the first step in answering questions. A University of Wyoming’s Webpage, called Grade Inflation: The Current Conversation, has this definition: “ . . . an increase in grades without a corresponding increase in the quality of student work.” For more information, visit that Website.

Once a definition is agreed upon, grades and student learning could be compared over an extended period of time to determine the degree of inflation on campus. Regarding what you can do about it, ask yourself if the grades your students earn are true measures of their learning. Then, to explore and address any grading concerns, sign up for the CITL’s Spring Semester workshop series: Effective Grading for Student Learning. Watch for announcements or contact CITL@emerson.edu.