Do College Students Deserve an A for Effort?


[H/t to Michelle Cottle who blogs at TNR’s The Plank.]

Ms. Cottle writes:

There’s a wicked little piece in today’s NYT about how college students’ somehow, somewhere along the way came to believe that if they put in the effort then they automatically deserve a high grade, regardless of the actual quality of their work.

The article cites research into the subject. For instance:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading…

The way my students are evaluated is clearly articulated on the syllabus for the class. For example, attendance and participation, quizzes, exams, presentations, and homework all contribute a certain percentage of points which are totaled to calculate the final grade.

I have never seen a syllabus that states 50%, let alone 100% of your final grade for the course will be based on how many lectures you have attended and how many readings you have completed. Reading and attending class is the first step in earning a grade in a class, not the last.

As Professor Marshall explains in the NYT article:

I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.

Janus provided this comment at The Plank:

This simultaneous lower and raising of expectations is rampant, and extraordinarily damaging. I think I first noticed it in elementary school, when I actually bothered to read the grading scale and noticed that a C is, and I quote, “average.” Strange, that, when I was told over and over again that a C is basically a dismal failure.

Blackton adds:

I have to be honest, in my University classes I essentially seek to achieve an average of 80 on my exams, and year in an year out I average in the high 70’s, that is for the students who attend class and do the work. Granted I am teaching English, which is not rocket science or statistics. I could not last as a teacher if I failed everyone, as much as possible I teach to the level of the class and not to the level of the material.

At the baccalaureate level, a “C” should signify more than average work. It should denote the minimum level of proficiency expected of someone with a B.A. If a student is not meeting that level of proficiency—and that means the “level of the material”—than that student should receive less than a C.

Other methods of evaluation cheapen the value of the B.A. and the educational experience in general. It also hurts these students in the job market. If that means fewer students take my classes, good. I would rather have 15-25 than 30-50. The experience is better for my students. We need to encourage greatness, rather than mediocrity, in our students.

JHildner sums up what a lot of educators have to deal with:

The reason kids view the educational process as a system to be gamed — with plagiarized work, Ritalin-fueled cram sessions, outraged emails arguing a grade — is because they have never been taught *at home* the *value* of what they’re doing other than obtaining a piece of paper that can get you to the next level.

In fact, the parents might not even perceive much value themselves.  Many adopt an adversarial posture toward teachers, as in, How dare you affect my kid’s life with your grade?  Who the hell do you think you are — you *public employee*?  Contempt is more common today than ever, and schools and acedemic institutions find that fulfilling their missions in even the most basic sense is an uphill struggle.

Now, I don’t really think that the younger generations are populated by soulless shits, but I do worry a great deal about what strikes me as the pathetic state of our educational system even in relatively ideal locations.  And the problem I see most accutely isn’t overpaid, lazy professionals — although they exist — but a lack of proper support at home, a lack of serious partnership between schools and parents, and a collective community-wide cluelessness as to what education is and what it should be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s