Education

Grading: Are Students Who Work Hard Entitled to an A? What Do You Think?

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While I am skeptical of articles that claim some kind of nationwide trend based on a few pieces of anecdotal evidence, the New York Times has an interesting article this morning about student perception of appropriate grades for the work they complete. According to the Times and university professors, students think they deserve excellent grades just for completing the work and attending class:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“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.”

Few teachers I know enjoy grading, and not just because some are awake at 3:15 in the morning grading papers. A lot of us aren’t sure that they motivate learning and that they can become more important than authentic education and motivation. That being said, I find that grades can be a powerful tool to generate some initial self-reflection; when I give out essays with Ds and Fs at the start of the year, it certainly gets the attention of my students.

In the end, though, do grades matter? Given that they may depend as much on the teacher as they do the student? Given that they are an imperfect effort to impose numerical rationality on something that probably can’t be quantified? I’m not sure, but I do know I don’t agree with this student:

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

I’d be interested to hear what others—students, former students, parents, teachers—have to say about how grading impacted their education. Should effort matter as much as ability? What’s your experience?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

7 Comments

  • I think that effort should be considered a factor in the final grade, but only as it brings the grade UP to a C. To get above a C should require results!

  • I have complaints with the 4.0 GPA system and the notion of curved grades, but that would take far too long to flesh out. In sum, both systems reward all around adequacy.

    As to the article, I agree with you Pogie. Especially at the University level liberal arts students should be judged on the quality of their work not the effort that went into it. In my opinion, this sense of grade entitlement is why it is increasingly necessary for individuals to pursue masters degrees. Basically, if more students get their undergrad degree with high marks it does not necessarily mean they are smarter. Employers, public and private, realized this a couple years ago so now they are requiring graduate degrees for positions which previously only required a BA/BS. Undergraduate grades no longer filter out those students who did the required work but did not fully grasp the concepts being taught, so we now have a growth in positions requiring masters.

    Of course, very little of the above applies to the hard sciences and math since those are pretty ease to objectively grade.

  • Ironically enough, I had an argument with a student today about why I never give a 100% on an essay. The student was unconvinced by my response that I was waiting for a Platonic form, first.

  • I find this discussion interesting and I also agree with Pogie… it isn’t about maximum effort. In fact, I think that is also something I am noticing with students… the **perception** of effort is also now worthy of a maximum grade according to some. Those evaluating cannot look inside a student and really gage if their are putting in effort (which means you can’t grade on it… that’s assessment 101) but in reality, there are times when students turn in materials that clearly done in haste and students wonder why it doesn’t justify full credit. It is a difficult question…

  • I know that in the ‘real world’ I am graded *not* on the effort I put into a task but the actual results. The sad truth is that this does not always mean that the best results come from tasks that are performed correctly in the pure-science-and-best-practices sense, but by the tasks that are completed with the highest benefit/cost ratio. Too often that is judged in the short term without total cost of ownership across a longer time table even considered.

    When I look at that picture – one that is likely repeated in workplaces across the nation – I believe that schools should be the exact opposite. I don’t feel that schools are a place to to merely teach our children how to be shewed workers and save the boss a few bucks here and there. They are supposed to be places to teach methods or inquiry and provide a toolset to utilize those methods. I think that students who perform the tasks in the spirit of the the lesson should be rewarded.

  • I used to live by the grade. I am not sure whether it is good or bad. There needs to be some system of measurement, I think. What do you think about improving the reputation of community colleges as a way to increase rates of Latinos getting higher education? I read about the idea in a great book called Thinking Big. It talks about things like creating an online curriculum and strengthening ties between high schools and community colleges as a way to get more people educated. I think that’s a good idea that we should examine.

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