Friday, February 20, 2009

Student Grade Expectations

To most of us teaching here this is probably not news, but I thought it was worth posting:

NY Times: Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes

I suspect that the gut reaction for most of you is the same as for me: disgust. Grades are a mode of assessment, not only of effort, but of the quality of a student's work (perhaps on the theory that this, in turn, is a way of assessing that student's skill or skill+effort). When I read that students are willing to ask, boldly, "what else is there?" when considering grading criteria beyond effort, I am left in abject horror.

That's what my attitude is (well, most of the time). But what should it be? Certainly, grades aren't just about effort, but is it really still reasonable to treat a C as an acceptable grade for a diligent student who meets our expectations? And if not, what does this mean for grades; or, rather, what do grades mean? Should graduate schools (or whoever cares about undergraduate grades) just treat transcripts as reports on how hard-working their applicants are?

And even if we should grade that way, can one, in good conscience, continue to do so knowing that one is alone in so doing, and that one's students will suffer for it in terms of comparative standing? What do we do when we have to choose between our convictions about grading and our convictions about fairness?