Why an Ivy League Teaching Assistant Inflated Grades

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by sanantone, Apr 9, 2014.

  1. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I know this article wasn't meant to have a comedic tone, but I thought it was hilarious.

    Confession of an Ivy League teaching assistant: Here’s why I inflated grades – Quartz
  2. AV8R

    AV8R Active Member

    Can't say I'm surprised. I liked this particular quote:

    "But the distribution of grades was very narrow. Great work got an A, pretty good to average got an A-, slightly below average was a B+, not great was a B, very bad was a B-. Anything below was akin to failure and required showing zero effort or even hostility to the class."
  3. cookderosa

    cookderosa Resident Chef

    Ya know, I really don't think it's a huge deal for a teacher to give an A- or a B to work that is "fine" but not great. I don't accept the argument that being at an Ivy school automatically means you should have a weighted grade, but I think there is an element of "checking the box" that is really -frankly- fine, especially at that level. EVERYTHING doesn't have to be brilliant, it just has to be done to a standard that is on par with the rest of that class. Really, the debate is not so much whether or not a student is on par, but whether or not the rubric is fair.

    Not sure if this sounds snotty, but I'm just going to say it without too much apology: It's not hard to be the best student in the class when everyone is Joe Public average. An exceptional student ALWAYS stands out. People who meet all of the requirements also deserve an A. I don't see that as harmful.

    I'm going to guess that if you took the average Ivy kid, who is obviously a high achiever, and compared his work side by side with your average community college student-there is probably an exceptional difference. So, give the kid an A. Big deal. I don't think it matters, especially in Ivy League schools. Now, I'd like someone to tell me that CC teachers are not under TREMENDOUS pressure to pass average to below average CC students, or the for-profit undergrads.... those are probably much bigger issues in terms of what kind of "disservice" is done by the entities of higher ed sliding people through.

    You don't think teachers ALSO give passing grades to avoid the whining? LOL I'm sure this probably starts in Kindergarten.
  4. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    I've seen it in high schools, where the teachers are so concerned for the students' "future" that they will pass anyone that is about to age out of high school, even if they rarely show up, do poorly on tests and fail to turn in any assignments.

    Another issue is the conflict of interest which arises when teacher performance evaluations include their students' grades as a part of the rubric. Teachers under these conditions are terrified of looking bad on their evaluations, so they purposefully inflate grades to avoid administrative scrutiny. I've overheard several teachers say to the effect of "I know this student doesn't deserve it, but I have no choice but to give him a passing grade in my class."

    It's not hard to imagine how that kind of behavior can trickle on upward. CCs are seeing students who were passed along the system without learning much in their school career and have to find ways to prevent their own graduation rates from dropping dramatically. (Although I have not observed this happening in CCs like I have in high schools- that is just a bit of speculation.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2014
  5. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I think the entitlement attitude is a problem.
  6. siersema

    siersema Member

    It can be even worse when grades are not just part of an eval for raises but for continued employment. I'm an adjunct at a local campus of a large college. It was made clear to the faculty that they are evaluated on a couple metrics and one of them is passing rates. Low passing rates can equal no job. It was also made clear that just showing up isn't enough to pass someone. Since the adjunct work isn't my primary income I have no issue grading as I see fit, including failing grades. If teaching was my only income that decision would be more difficult.
  7. cookderosa

    cookderosa Resident Chef

    But can we, as teachers, give two students (turning in the same quality of work) each a different grade because we feel Johnny has an "entitlement attitude" and Billy is humble, so we are going to reward the attitude we like better?

    I'll frame it differently, if you turn in a paper that meets AND exceeds the requirements, shouldn't you be entitled to a high grade? If I do hard work that meets and exceeds expectations, "I" feel entitled to a high grade- in fact, that's WHY I put in the extra oomph! LOL

    I'll say it- but everyone here is thinking it- it pisses people off when rich/entitled/upper crust kids seem to get something handed to them that the next guy had to work hard for. There is a strong feeling of fairness and justice that fuel stories like these.
  8. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    That's not what I'm saying at all. I just wouldn't cave in to students just because they complain and feel they are entitled to a certain grade when they're not. The problem at schools with rampant grade inflation is that the students are conditioned to expect at least an A- as long as they put in a little effort. I just wouldn't take part in this conditioning. One Ivy League professor said that he has two grades for students: the official grade and the grade they actually earned. He does this because he believes his students shouldn't be punished because of the inflated grades other professors hand out. He has to grade them on the scale everyone else is graded on in order to be fair. Showing them the grade they actually earned is for their own benefit. The students should know that they aren't as good as they think they are. They need to know that they didn't master the material that was taught in the course. I agree with him. It's doing the students a disservice to have them thinking they learned more than they actually did.
  9. Koolcypher

    Koolcypher Member

    Or the workplace for that matter. Interesting article.

    Why Johnny can't write, and why employers are mad.
  10. cookderosa

    cookderosa Resident Chef

    I'm not saying I disagree, I'm asking why their effort or learning (we'll call them "soft measures") are part of why you (or anyone, really) are so outraged. I don't think the article's tone suggested that students were not meeting minimum standards, rather they were not exceptional, thus didn't all get solid "A" grades. Some got A-, or B. If they did the work as outlined in the rubric ("hard measure") then they are entitled to the grade.

    I don't want you to misunderstand my opinion on this issue, or motives, or what I do in practice- I have given the grade "F" to a lot of students, but it's taken YEARS to become skilled at creating assessment tools that were defendable. Students sometimes believe the teacher fails "them" but a strong rubric is black and white - giving the student the burden of their grade. In other words, if the system requires that I participate in the "passing culture" (at the CC level) then I have to have a solid and clear method of evaluating. For me, things like not using essays, were easy changes. An Ivy school, of course, is all about critical thinking and writing- making it nearly impossible defend one's grade. But, you (I) can't have it both ways. I can't reward the hyper-enthusiastic learner or the kid who puts in 101% if I'm using multiple choice exams. The trade off is that I also don't have to pass the kid earning 59%. (unless my dean sides with the student, assuming they fight the grade).

    All of this long road leads me back to my point I tried to make before- the teacher has tremendous control over what assignments and their weight make up a course grade. I would guess, that in the class the TA referenced, there were very few assignments- and they were probably essays. I've taken classes like this- 2 or 3 writing assignments or similar - mean that a student can't simply "get a B" and everything be fine. So, in those situations, the stakes are too high to use the assignment as an opportunity for letting students know that "they aren't as good as they think they are." If the grades are really that "subjective" then you have to pass any student meeting the assignment criteria, and whether or not it's an A, A-, or B....makes little difference to the TEACHER but huge difference to the STUDENT. Give the A- and move on.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 11, 2014

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