Friday, May 11, 2007

Grades: An Added Bonus

Bonus Post!

I got my grades in today. Quite nice. Of course, I had to laugh at myself for my overeagerness to know what I earned--even though I was fairly certain that I did well--but there is something about actually seeing the grades on the screen that is calming and reassuring. I've always liked making good grades, and it was only in the semester that I decided I would settle for a B in a class that I learned that they didn't really matter much.

Not too much, anyway, because they are still influential factors in my life. I like seeing an A at the end of my assignments, the confirmation that I am intelligent and capable. We've been discussing the grading system and how it makes unreasonable demands of certain types of students. Do we have a better way, however, to assess student learning? Shevek in LeGuin's The Dispossessed abhors the grading system when he is on Urras, so he decides to give all the students the same grade because he sees them as arbitrary anyway. The students protest: how are you to separate the good students from the mediocre and poor ones?

Is that what our current system does? Does it provide a ranking system of students who meet the teacher's expectations and the ones who do not? In that case, can grades be a true assessment of student learning? What about the students who do not thrive in a system that is competitive and driven by this arbitrary structure? Can we find a place for them without crushing them?

Grade inflation is a worry among universities, but I read a retort: if most students at elite universities are not making high grades, wouldn't that be more cause to worry than the fact that most students score highly? Is it truly grade inflation then? Do we need a system that dictates only a certain percentage is capable of high achievement?

Even as all these questions pepper my mind, I still feel the calm, glowing satisfaction of having my hard work arbitrary rewarded by a certain letter--A--and a certain number--4.0. Is that bad? Or am I just one of those students who thrives under the current grading system?


Phillip Worley said...

Seeing those grades on the screen is golden, isn't it? I didn't realize how addicted I was until last semester when my last grade came in on February 10.

February 10. How am I supposed to get high off of grades over a month after I've taken exams?

People can say what they want about grade inflation, but I think it's important for professors to give credit where it's due--especially in undergrad, when most students are acutely sensitive to all of the feedback that they get. I've grown accustomed to the forced curve here, but in undergrad it would've depressed me and done more harm that good.

Congrats on the grades!

Justin Ray said...

I think it should also be considered, at least in universities of high standard, that enrolled students are already assumed to be high achievers. As such, it ought to be understood that the averages will be higher.

Kathryn said...

I think it's a great idea for elite schools to grade on a pass/fail basis. The students that are at those institutions are probably all smart and will still work hard in a class even without the goal of getting an "A."

However, for the rest of the schools, I think that grade inflation is a big deal. I'm a firm believer in the ranking system. The school can set a median grade (lets say...B minus) and then students are arranged somewhere on the curve. Makes sense to me. Sure, it might create a bit of competition...but, well, maybe that would be a good thing because post-school life is pretty competitive. An "A" should only be awarded for outstanding work. I'm always frustrated when I feel I haven't done an excellent job in a class but still get an "A." ;)

Kerry said...

It's hard, going from undergrad to med school. Because I was trained that I could succeed under the 4.0 grading system, and I could always see the grade I worked for reflected on the screen, I didn't see a problem with it. It was only when I started medical school, when I started killing myself just to see a grade that, while fine, wasn't what I was accustomed to seeing, and wasn't what I'd been trained to believe it meant, that I began to think poorly of myself. When I realized it just wasn't possible for me to get a 4.0 anymore, no matter how hard I tried -- and it didn't mean I wasn't working just as hard as the next person, or that I understood the material less.

That was a very hard realization for me...and it's still one that hurts from time to time, every time I see a grade on a screen. Because even when it's great, it's just not good enough for my own expectations. *shrugs*

Kerry said...

But I'm so happy you did well! Congratulations! *grins*

the secret knitter said...


I think you have to keep grades, although maybe not so much in grad school. The problem I see is that some students work for the grades rather than gaining the knowledge. If they can remember what they need come test time and forget it all after that, they don't care.

In other words, grades matter but only if the learning sinks in.