Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grade Expectations

This New York Times piece about students verbally demanding high grades is making the rounds. The problem with this article is that it ignores a major problem--grade inflation. Too often professors will give students very high grades for very little work because they don't want to deal with conflict. Sometimes they don't care about teaching, particularly survey courses. So students do get As and Bs for doing very little work in some of their courses and then come to expect it in all of their courses. When I was a TA, I literally had professors give students higher grades than they had earned for precisely this reason. Once I had an actual confrontation (nearly physical and he was big and I was actually getting a bit scared) with a student who absurdly claimed that I had something against him and that he didn't want me grading his final. That he did this in front of the whole class while they were taking the final was even more infuriating. In response, the professor just decided to give him an A so he wouldn't cause problems.

What's interesting is that I have not had this problem at all at the private school where I presently teach. I assign a lot of work here. And I expect a lot. But I also find that most of the students are up to the task. They perform well, they live up to expectations, and they get a B or higher. But at a public school, demanding a lot is going to lead to bad course evaluations because it is out of line with what they are required in other classes. Still, I think if you are up front with students and show that you care, many will respond positively. As Whiskey Fire says,

Look, if a student shows up in one of my classes all the time, does all of the reading, takes notes, asks questions, writes drafts of papers, fixes errors and accepts challenges -- well, yeah, she'll get at least a B.

The reason for this is that such a student will very likely have learned something from the course.

Perhaps this is my silly community college perspective cropping up here, but I have this crazy belief that hardworking students can learn things from me, and that this might lead to an enhanced ability to perform certain academic tasks over the course of a semester, thereby leading to better grades. Wacky!

What the Times article does is blame the students. It reeks of the typical "faculty talking about how stupid their students are" conversation. And these conversations never cease to annoy me. The students are not stupid. Maybe they are not engaged, but most are bright (or at least bright enough to claw through and get a degree) young people.

Rob has more