Monday, March 7, 2016

A manifesto in favor of grade inflation (and against grading).

Mark Oppenheimer published a manifesto in favor of grade inflation (or, really, against grading) this weekend.  Miriam Burstein points out the degree to which he is commenting from an elite/R1 perspective, and some of the perils of that position (which he acknowledges, but probably not enough).

I gave up writing comments on the final versions of my students' major projects years ago, because most students didn't read them (whether they read interim comments is another question; conferences help, but of course are also time-consuming, exhausting, etc.)   I'm happy to have a next-semester conference with students who genuinely want feedback on final work, but if all almost-90 of them genuinely wanted feedback, I'd be in trouble. 

And I have a relatively small number of total students compared to many people toiling in the intro/core trenches.  As far as I'm concerned, finding ways to comment efficiently, effectively, and in a truly individualized way is the goal, but I rarely manage more than two out of those three, and all too often I feel it's one or even zero out of three. 

- unknown


  1. This post is not by me, though I endorse it.

    1. 'Twas me, apparently having a middle-aged moment.

      And thank you.

  2. I worked with relatively small classes, and had lots of one-on-one time with students, as projects were developed. We generally had 2 class discussions of projects... one during the developmental stage, and another when the project was complete. With beginning and intermediate classes, I would also take a project and go through it as if I was grading it, and do this in front of the class, explaining exactly what I look for. I would do this twice a semester. And of course, there were always office hours, though few took advantage of them.

    Still... students would complain they didn't get enough feedback.

    Other than moving into their homes and hovering over their every move, it is a losing battle. I would reach a few... but not many. The few made it somewhat worthwhile.


  3. I would dearly love to toss the whole grading thing out the window, and focus on learning, accomplishment, and personal growth, but ...

    * three-quarters of my students have jobs or family commitments outside of class that would eat all their time if they didn't have make-or-break deadlines from me too. As it is they come in blearly eyed and short on sleep at times.

    * I don't know how the elite places that do without grades get accredited, but I'm damn sure our accreditors would laugh if we suggested it.

    * my gen-ed class sizes would have to be cut roughly in half for me to get to know each student well enough to really help him or her find and work on his or her weaknesses.

    * my experiment this semester with completion grading on homework suggests that some of the students here in rural Midwestistan aren't interested in identifying and shoring up their own weaknesses. They are just here for the credential that opens the door to maybe getting a good job.

    1. Things look similar from my perch. I finally gave in to giving reading quizzes in gen ed lit classes (which initially struck me, based on my overprivileged prep school/Ivy League background, as more appropriate to elementary school, if there, than college), when colleagues pointed out to me that students told them they actually wanted to do the reading -- they enjoyed it -- but if there was no immediate grade-based incentive, they ended up privileging problem sets, or whatever else was getting a grade.

      I do do completion grading on many things -- probably a bit easier in a writing class, where homework-type stuff can be considered a draft, or even pre-draft, to be polished later. But yes, some students then skip those little assignments,and their grades -- both the participation/preparation ones and the ones on final projects -- tend to suffer. In fact, there's such a close correlation between the two that I could probably omit grading the smaller stuff entirely and end up with more or less the same final grades -- except then some students who now do the work would skip it, for reasons described above.

    2. I'm still recovering from an experiment last semester: my dean had complained that making comments telling students how they could improve their work was discouraging, so I let a seminar with significant classroom performance components go with nothing but verbal praise, and one time one general suggestion to the entire class about one thing that would improve performance on those components. However, I spent several days commenting on the end-of-semester seminar paper (truly awful and graded in the B range under a stay-out-of-the-dean's-office grading scale) -- and my students never picked them up, and to date have never asked for them. They effectively received zero feedback for the entire semester, and there have been no complaints whatsoever. They did not in fact want any feedback at all on how to improve. I'm still reeling, but, yes, PP, I think they are here for the credential, and not for improved skills or content knowledge.

  4. I've been screaming this from the hinterlands since moving to the front of the classroom.

    As previously detailed, I was pressured to accept the recipe for the compliment sandwich.

    As I reported back then, I have compiled a list of common errors which originally was shared as "Tips for assignments," later "Suggestions for improved grades," now just bald-faced "How to not piss me off."

    If you got the impressions that I've stopped giving any fucks, that would be the result of having close to no one bother to take the advise that would have improved their work ... and my mood ... immensely.

    1. As long as it's CLOSE TO no-one, that means SOMEONE is still learning/improving occasionally, right? I try and focus on those someones - and hell, yes, that's favouritism and elitism, right there!

      I've taken to offering formative feedback on drafts of work in most modules - I get praised for my student-centred willingness to go above and beyond the mandated grading minimum, yet only about 1-5 students in each group take me up on it, so it's hardly onerous. Plus gives me an excuse to give less thorough comments on the final pieces everyone submits...

      It feels lazy. But it's also kind of liberating, and lets me give more attention to the students who actually WANT feedback and have time to use it. In an increasingly over-crowded system where I can't give what I consider quality levels of support to everyone, it seems more sensible to actually focus my effort some, even if the reasons for not engaging are due to inequalities I'd like to be combatting...

      Grumpy Academic

    2. I'm increasingly taking this approach, too (and probably need to figure out how to take it more, out of sheer self-preservation). And I, too, worry whether this approach privileges the already-privileged (though solving that problem may be above my pay grade: as I've said before, at least in a US context, increasing or simply restoring the value of the Pell Grant would go a long way to decreasing inequality. Getting the most out of college simply takes time, and students who are working for pay 20, 30, 40 or more hours a week don't have that time).


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