Monday, January 24, 2005

Grade Inflation?

Grade inflation?

Princeton has decided to cap the number of A’s it gives, in the brave battle to stem the tide of grade inflation, yap yap yap.

As you might guess, the result is students turning against students and, thus, I imagine, less learning taking place. Go read about it if you care:

I have my doubts that grade inflation exists, A, and B, what if it did?*

What’s the deal with grades anyway?

What is our job as professors? To make sure, for some existential grade review board out there somewhere, that an A is really “worth” an A, whatever that means?

Or to teach the History of the English Language to all of the students in the class as well as we possibly can?

And, if (by some freakish chance) all of the students in the class do indeed learn the History of the English Language brilliantly in a given semester, are we then to give only 35% of them an A?

And yes, I know that the odds of all of them doing so brilliantly are not good.

On the other hand: to approach the class with the attitude that only 35% of them are going to do it brilliantly – to approach the class with the attitude that I will give 65% of them a B or lower, no matter what – seems to decide on failure beforehand.

My job is not to fail students: my job is, in fact, not to grade students. My job is to educate students.

*There was an essay by Alfie Kohn in the Chronicle of Higher Ed on November 8, 2002 on this subject – don’t know that it’s still accessible, but you can try:

Called “The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation.”

1 comment:

zelda1 said...

I am a non-non-traditional student, which means that I am usually the oldest student in the class and am also older than most of my professors. NOw, this doesn't make me any more or less apt to understand but it does give me more experience with being in class rooms. One of the things that I know from my vast experience is that there are two types of teachers: teachers and evaluaters. Those that teach do so with such passion the students can not help but absorb every word, the classroom is exciting, and the material never boaring. Learning is expected and happens through the professors passion somehow leaking into the students. The other teacher, the evaluater, sits in class holding onto those grades and using them to dispense his or her own revenge or justice. Nothing is taught, nothing is learned, and the grades are what consumes the students. In the teacher's class where learning is cultivated the grade never seems to haunt me but in the other, the grade is always in the back of my mind. Will I get an A, how can I get an A, how does he grade. It goes on and on because the teacher that can not teach knows it and grades are his only means to lord over the student. Certainly it isn't his passion or knowledge. I like getting grades, but I like being in a class where grades are secondary to learning, and of course when you are in class like that, learning delivers the grades.