Monday, November 22, 2010

An Open Letter on Grade Inflation

Dear Students,

As you ponder your mid-term revisions, your research papers, and your finals, you are no doubt wondering about your final grades. Indeed, some of you care so much about your final grades that you made revisions to exams on which you scored a NINETY FIVE. Your revision will add two points to that grade. Congratulations, your mummy will be so happy.

I suggest we end the suspense now. I suggest that I do what apparently everyone else in my department does and I inflate the shit out of your grades.

How do I know they are doing this inflation? I know because when I was a wee lass, I graded for them. I know how easily they graded and how much you cheated and how bizarre some of your answers were. I know that you went over my head to the professor so many times that your Crocks and Sperry Docksiders and whatever other ugly shoes you were wearing imprinted themselves firmly on my scalp. And I know the professors caved. My minions (aka: my teaching mentorees) are out there now, doing those same teaching assistant jobs. They have the prints of your Manolo Blahniks and Uggs and Converse All-Stars on their heads. And their grades are erased, too, to be replaced with the higher marks of the tenured profs.

Let's cut the crap. I'll take your present grades and shift them all so that my class average is the "norm" for our department -- a high B. You won't particularly have demonstrated much learning, but that's apparently not the point in our department. In our department we are nice, as one recently tenured faculty member put it, and nice is a good thing.

You know what's interesting? My students over at Second String State U take their low Bs and are happy with them. Ninety percent of them are NOT convinced that they are precious and unique snowflakes. You guys are different. In a bad way.

Yes, indeed, let's cut the crap. I'll give you the grade you want, you'll give me the high evaluations I need, and I'll spend finals week ensconced on my sofa with Season Five of The Wire and a bottle of gin.

The Disheartened Dog


  1. Screw that noise; I would take all their grades, put them in a turkey pan, pour lighter fluid in the pan and burn them in front of the class. Then you say "I don't care if they fire me, I will destroy you as a class....grade inflation ends here and now by flunking you."

  2. I once spent some three hours on an extra-credit assignment to bring my mark up by 1% from an A, to a slightly higher A.

    Totally worth it.

  3. When I was an undergrad, I graduated in Dec. After defending my senior research paper, I stepped out in the hall for an interminable 10 minutes. When I stepped back in the chair said "Well if you were graduating in May this would be an A-, but at the last department meeting we decided to crack down on grade inflation by instituting uniform curving guidelines." [swear to god] "So since there's no one else to average you out with, you have to get a B so that the average grade in senior research this term is a B."

    It was fucking illogical bullshit that she made up because she was one P-chemist in the department and I did my research with the other P-chemist and she was territorial. And every time I'm tempted to cave to whining about grade bumping and curving, I think of that and want to do what Strelnikov suggests instead.

  4. Season 5 of The Wire . . . . Best show on TV EVER. I just finished watching seasons 3 and 4 again -- this time with students. Now they are begging to borrow season 5 from me!

    Enjoy your break, BlackDog. And don't forget to read "The Corner" if you haven't already. It was one of the inspirations for The Wire. I got to read it last summer AND pass it off and work :)

  5. Wait, I just realized that you said your students who earned 95% did revisions. WTF?

    First, I almost never have a student do that well. Second, when I give the chance for revisions, only about 1/3 of the class takes advantage. Those who scored 4 or 8 out of 40 and those who scored 36 out of 40 couldn't be bothered. I thought we taught in the same field until I read this comment.

  6. Wow, from the details of this story, Blackdog could be my academic twin!

    As a TA, I worked for a prof who scaled the exams, scaled the paper grades and then scaled the final grades.

    Students who should have failed usually ended up with a C! Where else can not doing an assignment lead to 55% credit?


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