Anyone involved in teaching has heard the sob story. One student works really, really hard in the course but only gets 65% on the final exam. Another student gets 95% without breaking a sweat.
The "C" student thinks this is very unfair. They should get a much higher mark because they put so much effort into the course.
The issue is addressed in the New York Times a few days ago [Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes].
In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.Michelle Cottle has a comment in The New Republic [An A for Effort? Talk About a Lousy Idea]. Now, this isn't a publication that I routinely look to for views that are similar to my own1 but her comment below pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.
Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.
“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”
“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.”
No, Jason. What would be wrong is if a university trained its students to believe that they were excellent simply for getting up off their futons and doing what was expected of them. Did the reading? Attended class? Stayed up late working on a paper? Good for you, puppy! Sure, you did a craptastic job on that paper--not to mention the final--suggesting that you have no more than a fourth-grader's grasp of the material. But what the hell!? You worked hard. You showed up--even when you had that reallllly bad hangover. You may not have learned much, but you sure did try. Have a nice fat A. And here's hoping it comes in handy when your first employer fires you for not being able to tell your ass from your elbow when it comes to doing your job.Hopeful Monster has something to say over on Chance and Necessity [Student effort ≠ high grades].
Sweet Jesus, where did such dizzying nonsense come from? Sure, it's easy to blame today's youth for being whiny, spoiled, and entitled. But the kids had to get these delusional ideas from somewhere. I suspect at least part of the blame lies with all those well-intentioned self-esteem-boosting messages that anxious parents, educators, and coaches feel compelled to spout in this era of making every child feel like a winner all the time. You know, the cheery, you-can-do-it mantras along the lines of, "All that matters is that you tried," "The only way to fail is not to try at all."
Um. No. While I understand the self-defeating doubt that we're trying to short-circuit here, there are, practically speaking, lots of ways to fail--much less fail to get an A. One of those is by not having much of an aptitude for a particular area of study. Not all of us are equipped to be rocket scientists, economists, or playwrights, just as not all of us are equipped to be actors or professional basketball players. If anything, a student who tries really, really, really hard at something and still repeatedly falls short might benefit from realizing that his talents lie elsewhere. (As could the rest of us: Not to state the obvious, but I don't want a brain surgeon who graduated at the top of his class because he had perfect attendance. I want one who is an artist with a scalpel.) Go ahead: Aim for the stars. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something. But if you actually try that thing and it turns out that you're not so hot at it, don't whine about unfair grading. Acknowledge that you have major room for improvement and decide where to go from there. The sooner kids learn how to deal with failure and move on, the less likely we are to have a bunch of whiny, fragile, self-entitled, poorly qualified adults wandering around wondering why their oh-so-stellar efforts aren't properly appreciated in the real world.
Alternatively, now might be a good time to revisit my dream of becoming a concert pianist. I've never had much of an ear for music, but I bet if I quit my day job and worked at it really, really hard--or at least showed up at all my lessons and did the homework--someone would eventually reward my "excellence."
I want students to recognize that part of what we're testing is innate ability, or intelligence. There's no getting around it. If you are smart and you work hard you are going to get a higher grade than a student who works hard but isn't very smart. It's unfortunate that there are very smart students who don't have to work hard to get an "A," but that's life. What should count in university is how well you understand the material, not how much effort you put in while trying to understand.
By the way, I think that university Professors have to shoulder a great deal of the blame for the current sad state of "higher" education. It's not just the students. We Professors have always had the power to fix the problems but for the most part we have done nothing about it. Many of us have actually contributed to the problems by giving out marks for attendance and allowing "extra" assignments to raise your grade.
1. By this, I don't mean to imply that The New York Times is any better.