Monday, October 17, 2011

Grades: an Illusion of Value?

updated 012621

Princeton University students were upset. Their alma mater had decided to fight back against grade inflation by putting a cap on the number of A’s students could be given. But students felt they were being deprived of what they were entitled to. (New York Times Metropolitan Section, Sunday, January 31, 2010)

In many disciplines academic grades have little significance because professors in those fields cannot themselves agree on what standards should be. How much knowledge a student has acquired may play only a small part in the process of chasing a grade. No small factor is how the student capitulates in the face of faculty demands for deference. In many institutions of “higher learning” it is not reasoned argument and factual knowledge that wins the grade, but rather, -- to forego more obvious, vulgar expressions – obsequiousness.

Students have learned to expect a certain quid pro quo: they will give rambling, incoherent college teachers good reviews on the grounds they are “OK" or "nice people.” In return the students expect to be rewarded with A’s and B’s despite their ignorance or low levels of production, for having been “enthusiastic" or "attentive.”

If they care at all, prospective employers may use an applicant’s academic grades as an inexpensive selection method. Using grades to screen new employees helps those making hiring decisions cover their "assets." No one gets criticized for hiring a bad employee if that employee came in with a sterling transcript! And transcript review is a lot cheaper than an apprenticeship.

To examine these issues further, see The Teacher as Technician: Will Technology Improve Schooling?


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