“Happy” Grading Time! What Kind of “A” Do You “Need”?

As I make my way through what might be my last set of final essays ever, my main quandary will be what kind of A they should get. Here is my take, on Slate today, on grade inflation and why I and so many of my compatriots do it (or have to fight it). Thank you to all of the Schu-Live Crew who offered Tweets!

10 thoughts on ““Happy” Grading Time! What Kind of “A” Do You “Need”?

  1. The business school of the university where I did my graduate work encouraged students to negotiate for higher grades. Teaching there was a nightmare.


  2. Been guilty of it, but cracked down on it this, my last semester adjuncting, and the previous one. I have made myself extraordinarily available to check and give meticulous, explicit feedback and pointers on their work; I actively, consistently (can you say nag?) ask them to submit drafts and allow for resubmissions. Thus, when I actually give someone a C– all I can say is: you never checked in, never made an effort to “presubmit” or “resumbit.” I’m happier with myself but, yeah, let me tell you: my evals took a noticeable dip.


  3. I haven’t taught in about ten years, but I once had a student tell me “I can’t have a B” as the compelling argument for my changing her grade. I felt she could at least have come up with something I would find even slightly persuasive. Sounds like things have gotten much worse, because I actually flunked students for cheating or not turning in multiple papers, and I gave very few A’s each class. BTW, I didn’t raise that student’s grade.


  4. My department is a rare exception– we discourage grade inflation, we give faculty lower yearly evals for it, etc. We require grade distributions and course evals (amusing that my spell check wants to call them course “evils”) be submitted for every course taught (in a nice spreadsheet) for our yearly evaluation and for T&T stuff (along with a teaching portfolio of your work). This has been our planned response to grade inflation at our institution, and more generally.

    It definitely helps– students do not expect to get As. They may still seek out easy graders, but there is a strong disincentive to be that faculty member. (We don’t expect any particular grade distribution– sure you’ll have a good class where you might have better grades from time to time, and no one cares. We care about the pattern of everyone getting As.) It also helps that our dean has zero sympathy for lame student grade appeals, as long as we stick to the policies in our syllabus.

    As you’ve noted, this A-for-nothing culture is a culture that has been created, and there needs to be a deliberate effort to re-create a different culture. Else, parents and politicians need to stop whining about why college students know nothing when they graduate– because there is currently an expectation that they are entitled to not only passing grade, but an exceptional grade, for doing no work and learning nothing.

    All of this being said, this still leaves adjuncts vulnerable, and this is a problem. It’s not just that adjuncts need to worry about getting re-hired based on enrollments, it’s that the pay is so low that there is simply no margin in investing a huge amount of one’s time in grading and dealing with student blowback. And, in trying to get a gig at another institution, you know that the first thing (and maybe the only thing) they’re going to look at are your past evaluations. Adjuncts are simply exposed to too much risk to participate in any scheme involving de-inflating grades. They aren’t responsible for creating the problem, and it is not their job to fix it.


  5. This is timely, because I just entered my grades at fancy SLAC yesterday, and I did many things to “bump” grades. I dropped the lowest homework, I lowered the total # of points on the last exam, and I did a game on review day where the winning team got 2 extra credit points and the “losing” teams got 1. I also round up when grades are .5 and above. I got an email today wondering if I could posssssibly bump the B+ to an A-. Oh, honey. I already “helped” you.


  6. There are important variations of this problem that I have witnessed and/or been involved in – the examples are real and not isolated ones and had major negative consequences for adjuncts and TT and tenured faculty, including loss of job, except for one case when a tenured faculty member was informally but clearly forced to “voluntarily” leave.
    1) Of students who complain about a grade to some 3rd party, the one who is an honor’s student will be able to exert pressure for a more favorable grade, whereas those without the cultural capital will not.
    2) Faculty (including adjuncts, TT and tenured) who are known for students earning [note it is not about a faculty member giving] higher grades on average run the risk of being considered an easy grader by their peers – which might be the case, of course. Or not.
    3) Students who care only about earning a good enough grade to pass [no grade inflation needed or desired] are as energy-draining in a different but equally important way as their colleagues whose lives are crushed by an A-.
    4) Faculty in universities/colleges/experimental courses in which letter grades are not assigned in favor of some other metric (student self-evaluation, faculty pages-long assessment, etc.) do sometimes wish for a system where students do get actual grades.
    To be clear, I am not suggesting that non-contingent faculty are not more at risk than their TT and tenured colleagues for whatever grade culture they must grade in. I have never seen a case where an adjunct deemed a poor teacher [grades too high or too low] was able to stay in the game based on his/her research and service making up for the perceived deficit in teaching.


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