Easy as A, B, C

Jackson Five of course.

I’m TAing an ethics class for some extension school students and it looks a lot of people are going to drop out after hearing my comments on their first papers. The people who DID finish the process and so submitted a final draft are all pretty good writers and their papers are good.

What this suggests to me is that perhaps grade inflation isn’t really that damaging. Well, let me rephrase. There are two problems with grade inflation.

One is that if grades inflate, then RANKING information is lost as grades get pressed toward the “100” or “A” mark. If everyone is getting an A, then how can we distinguish students. This supposedly penalizes really good students and perhaps allows poorer students to find themselves in classes they can’t handle.

Another criticism of grade inflation is that it’s rewarding laziness and making our generation less education or less prepared for things.

The first criticism is the one that I think is falsified by my recent experience as a TA. What I mean is that it is possible that these days there is a more aggressive selection effect than was in place before. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that students these days are really good at taking classes not for a grade when they know it will be really hard or dropping it before a really nasty grade gets put on their transcript. The result is that it grades are inflating not due to teachers handing out better grades to everyone, but rather being UNABLE to hand out bad grades to bad students before these kids jump ship or escape the class.

If this were happening, then grades would be a poor indicator of how a student is doing, but it would mean that the same information could be gleaned by looking at WHAT CLASSES a student is taking. So, if I’m looking at a pile of applications and everyone got A’s, then I know that this bunch of students is perhaps savvy in avoiding bad grades. But then I can look to see what classes they took to see what those A’s really mean.

It also might mean that students aren’t getting worse educations, but rather, are just more able to find what things they are good at. This reduces information (O everyone looks good at whatever stuff they did), but it may not indicate students are learning less or are less prepared.


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