Grade inflation

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James Maroney:
As implied by "Loving Afar," I remind my students that their grades were not "given" to them (by me). I simply record what they earned.

Actually, I let my students have the option of "curving." I explain that their grade would be based on the theoretical normal curve, in which grades are based on the class mean and standard deviation. Those within +/- 1SD of the mean would be in the average range, say about 68%, so they would get C's, those above 1 SD above the mean (about 12%) would get B's (an equal number would get D's -- those 1SD below), while, finally, about one or two students (3%) would get A's because they were 2 SD above the mean (again there would probably be an equal number of F's). Those with A's or F's are the outlyers.

The catch to that system of grading is that students have to compete against everyone in the class, so their score has to be higher and that of their peers must be lower for them to get an A. If the course scores are all low there will be the same number A's, B's, C's and so on.

An alternative to that system is a criterion-referenced system, in which achieving at a certain level is deemed to be the equivalent of an A, B, C, and so on. In that system, all can get A's or all can fail, you get what you earn, and you compete only with yourself.

So, what system do you think my students choose?

Liz asked, "So, what system do you think my students choose?"

That's a tough question for me. What I remember from my younger days is that grading on a curve was always more appreciated. It seemed to be a way for students to compare themselves with others. The competition for excellence was more easily understood as long as it was compared to the lowest achieving students in the class. And the highest achieving student was seen as something "other".

The second option was one I almost always adhered to as a student.  And generally one that I used for grading my own students.  The results always seemed to follow a tradtional curve anyway.

So what do students choose?

Cesek asked what system my students chose.  They have always selected the second system -- the criterion-referenced system, rather than grading on a curve. Once they understand what grading on the curve means, they want the opportunity to do well.
Of course, there are ways of modifying the curve as well, but for me, I prefer the absolute criterion type of system, and the students know exactly what they need to do for a grade.

My fourth grader just got his report card last week, and reading this forum got me thinking. If he wishes to get an "A" he must earn 93 percent or higher, a "B" requires at least 85 percent, and so on.  A score of 77 percent - 72 percent  will get him a "D," which is also failing at the last school at which I taught ( I have removed the +/- stuff).

This begs the question, Why must my 10-year-old earn a "D" on his report card for a score of 77 percent, when I am giving a college freshman or sophomore a "C" at least and a "B" (if the distribution works out that way) for the same level of performance?

Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with a high grading standard. I just wonder why we should expect more from a 10 year old than we do from an "adult."


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