Monday, September 27, 2010

Unmaking the Grade

I don't grade many people, thankfully, because it's kind of stressful.

I was one of the instructors for a for-credit course for a graduate degree in medical science (kind of a pre-med master's), and you really just don't even want to get into grading.

Do I want to be responsible for someone not getting into medical school because they got a bad grade in a class on using information resources? I think not.

Yet at the same time, do I want to just shrug off someone's blatant failure to do the assignments? Not really.

In my case the course director tried to make it all very tidy and precise: do W, X and Y to accumulate Z number of points and you get an A, but unless everything is multiple choice, there's always room for interpretation.

Does this paragraph address this aspect of the assignment? Kind of? Enough to just say yes, or not that much, so we have to say no?

And then let's not even get into the irritating problem of how you recognize the ones who really do go all out to get everything done to the letter, when you're kind of designing the whole thing with the intention that anybody who bothers to expend a bare minimum of effort will get a good grade.

Make up extra-awesome-fantastico grades that cannot be symbolized by letters alone? Go back to kindergarten and add smiley faces and gold stars?

All this is to say that I really liked this post by ladysquires at the writingishard blog (its proper name contains a naughty word!--that I find I am weirdly squeamish about copying here, for some reason. Perhaps a future post will address my conflicted feelings about profanity!--on the internet!--to some amusing end).

The author thoughtfully considers the question of why students care so deeply about grades, concluding that in some ways, for some students, they really do matter as much as the students think or fear, even while in others they aren't that important (as anyone 10 years out of college who was kind of disappointed that potential employers weren't more impressed by that hard-won GPA could say).

There's discussion of the way that this is partly generational, since when fewer people went to college and there were more well-paying jobs that didn't require college degrees, grades may not have been as big a deal.

So, grades are practically meaningless, but also mean exactly as much as they're made to mean by the next school you're applying to, which could be pretty much everything.

Yeah, I'm glad I don't have to grade many people.


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