Grades: Inflated or Just Successful Students

normal curve vs standards success curve

I shared with a colleague that most of the students in my writing class were getting an A. He commented that I must be an easy grader or that I just believed in giving As. He was half right. I do believe in giving As when students have demonstrated success in the course outcomes. If the goal for the course is for students to be successful in learning the outcomes and we provide them with feedback and with opportunities to revise previous non-proficient work than most (hopefully all) students will earn As. More important, they will know that learning is to be valued over grading. They will know that they can keep on improving until they become proficient. I believe that their final revision grade on a project should count as their grade on the project.

Do your grades reflect your success model or a failure model? How do you structure your class and your technology use so that students constantly improve in the standard until they become proficient?

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5 Responses to “Grades: Inflated or Just Successful Students”


  1. 1 shaun December 11, 2007 at 3:29 am

    I am just curious about how what you do with students who surpass the standard set for success in your classes. I concede that we are long past the time when “C” meant “average performance” and “A” meant “outstanding,” I wonder what comes next. If “A” means “proficient,” is there a way of indicating excellence beyond proficient?

    When I was a college instructor my average grade was about a B, though our department average was about B+. At that time, my view was that “B” meant solid mastery, but not exceptional. One hopes that most students will achieve mastery–it seems fair that a class would be designed so that mastery of the topic or skill would be an expected outcome. I did allow students to revise work for a higher grade, and in some classes used a portfolio process that allowed students to choose which projects would count towards their final grades.

  2. 2 Steve Rosenbaum December 11, 2007 at 3:29 am

    I think the idea of grading students on a curve is a flawed model. You can easily end up with a result that doesn’t reflect what students know or can do but rather how they compare to each other.

    It’s a little like the scene from Rodney Dangerfields movie Back to School. He say, “Do you want to look thin..hang out with fat people!”

    Instead if you grade compared to a preset standard it doesn’t matter what another students knows but what I know and can do.

    Here’s the kicker. If you’re a really good teacher, most students should meet the standard. In the corporate world where I work, our task is to get hundreds or even thousands of employees up to a standard. Our big goal is to do it as fast as we can.

  3. 3 Steve Rosenbaum December 11, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Just a quick tip an increase the number of views on your blog. When you do your tags start with the more commonly searched tags. I’ve learned to always start mine with Education. There are some others, just look at the entire list of tags and you’ll see how they rank.

  4. 4 hgtuttle December 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Shaun and Steve,
    I used the C curve image because many teachers still have the “not many students can get an A” mentality. Not all teachers are standards based where success for all is the desired goal.
    The point of where does above proficiency get scored is a good one. As you indicate Shaun, a B could be proficient and an A above proficient. My present logic is that all students need to be proficient but not all need to be above proficient.
    Harry

  5. 5 Steve Rosenbaum December 11, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Here’s something else to think about. This actually is critcal in the business world. Let’s say a student gets 90% right on a test. Not a bad score. However, we’re accepting that it’s okay not to know the other 10%. This 10% accumulates test after test, year after year until there’s a lot this student doesn’t know.

    Now, I introduce you to your doctor. He’s really good. He got 90% right on all his test. You now have to hope you don’t have the 10% he got wrong. Or how about. I’m your pilot today. I got 90% right on all my landings.


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