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Grades and Expectations

18 Feb Posted by in Academics | 1 comment

Many of the faculty doubtless saw the recent (Feb. 18) New York Times article on student expectations and grades. Citing faculty at many institutions, including the University of Maryland, the notion is that many students import from their K-12 experience a sense that any significant effort in class should be rewarded with an A. The result is an unpleasant amount of haggling with professors who do not view an A as the default grade. This goes along with a fascinating, and more scholarly, comparative finding, that American students, in tests of math, geography and whatnot, when compared to their peers from other nations tend to do fairly badly but uniformly head the list in believing that they have done well. Years of emphasis on self-esteem obviously have results.

On the other hand, a few caveats. Complaints about grades are not new (the NYT article was devoid of any real historical perspective, which flawed it from the outset). And it is always risky to cite a few annoying stories and assume they’re typical, and an element of this may apply to the NYT approach. For what it’s worth, I almost never deal with student haggling, and certainly have experienced no increase over the past two decades. Granted, my position might intimidate, and I’m not a particularly tough grader, so this may prove little. Further, and again on a personal note, I took a solemn vow as a younger scholar not to join so many ageing pundits in random swipes at the younger generation. And of course, several times in recent years we have examined actual grade distributions at Mason and found little sign of actual grade inflation over time.

So: I was asked, by the person who called the NYT article to my attention, whether widespread inflated expectations and resulting haggling are part of the Mason teaching experience. As suggested, my personal answer was no. But I said I’d ask around.

So I’m asking.