It’s a conversation most faculty would rather not have. The student is unhappy about a grade on a paper, project, exam, or for the course itself. It’s also a conversation most students would rather not have. In the study referenced below, only 16.8 percent of students who reported they had received a grade other than what they thought their work deserved actually went to see the professor to discuss the grade.
Sometimes, in informal conversations with colleagues, I hear a statement like this, “Yeah, not a great semester, I doled out a lot of C’s.” I wonder, did this professor create learning goals that were unobtainable by most of the class or did this professor lack the skills to facilitate learning? I present this provocative lead-in as an invitation to reflect upon our presuppositions regarding grading.
The June/July issue of The Teaching Professor contains highlights from an article that makes an important point about grade inflation. Not all grade inflation is bad. When grades are higher than they used to be and there’s no corresponding increase in student performance, then grade inflation is a problem. But as Mostrom and Blumberg point out, some teaching motivates students to work hard and achieve more. This “grade improvement,” as Mostrom and Blumberg call it, is good. It’s what all teachers should aspire to promote. We want our students to learn more and when they do, their grades should show it. This important distinction should be part of our thinking about grade inflation.