Grades have been increasing at United States colleges and universities for at least 50 years. That’s simply a fact. Many want to argue that at their university this is because students have been getting better over those 50 years. However, if this is happening everywhere, the same set of causes must be largely contributing everywhere. It’s a very hard argument to make that grades are increasing for unique reasons at each university (essentially an argument of “my place is special”). So let’s consider the premise that students are getting better over the last 50 years.
Tag: grade inflation
Grades are increasing everywhere – at colleges and universities and high schools across the country — despite the fact that we have been in a panic about the quality of our entire US educational system for at least the last 20 years. Imagine the day, and it’s coming if we don’t do anything, when every student at every university in the USA gets an A in every class that she or he takes. What should we do on that day? Or before we get there?
Yesterday, we had our third student drop our class Seeing Nature: How Aristotle and Darwin Understood Nature and Human Society because the student was on track to get a B in the class. Let that soak in for a minute – dropping a class because they were going to get a B. This has become routine.
In this class, we ask students to write two paragraphs about the readings on Monday, two paragraphs about the readings on Wednesday, and a six paragraph synthesis essay about a topic they choose from among a set of possible questions on Friday. We began with 35 students the first day, and 13 found this too much to handle. As a consequence, we were down to 22 last week. That means 13% (3/22) of our class dropped because their grade might be a B.
We just finished up another term of classes and are now starting the next term. This morning I got my student evaluations from last term’s classes. Student commentary on most aspects of a course are typically very thoughtful. Criticism can be harsh, but most students do it with a spirit helpfulness and construction. However, I always find comments about the exams in a class to be the most incongruous.
The most common comments from students are (1) the exams are too long, and (2) the exams didn’t cover a lot of the material we covered in class. Frequently, students will make both these points within the same sentence. First of all, these students don’t realize the contradiction inherent in this compound complaint. If you want me to ask about everything we covered in class, the exams will have to be considerably longer. However, I think both, and particularly the second complaint reflects a lack of understanding about their own educational goals and what one can expect for their education.
Nobody can give you an education; you have to take it.
I just finished another term of teaching. Most students are outstanding to work with. They are intellectually engaged, they are inquisitive, and they demand more from you as an instructor. These characteristics are true of students across the grade spectrum. In fact, students who are struggling but who are clearly fighting for their education because they want to learn are, in many ways, the most satisfying students to work with.