Friday, March 30, 2007

Grade Inflation

A topic like this seems to be one teachers deal with more often than not. I can remember sitting down during a parent teacher conference and the mother of one of my student’s was scratching her head wondering how her daughter could have a 3.0 GPA for the quarter and have three C’s. I asked to look at the report card and did a GPA scale from college. Showing the mother what the real number looked like, the long, slow nod she gave and the expression her face said that it was clear something was not right with the grading system.

Sure enough, colleges and universities have been finding themselves with this problem too. It almost begs the question of what is wrong with our education system, but the answer, half the time, is right in front of us. Students don’t want to learn and teachers don’t want to teach. Keep in mind, this is NOT an ironclad rule, but it is one that is popping up more and more often.

As schools across the country enter into the fourth quarter, the amount of tension and frustration that both students and teachers are facing are beginning to boil over and both sides do not plan on giving up any ground in the classroom. An example comes from my own classes. It is now becoming almost a daily struggle of having to listen to my own students say to me, “It’s the fourth quarter! We don’t need notes anymore. Let’s just coast into summer.”

Students seem to forget that in a few years, coasting into summer will no longer be an option. The workforce has no summer vacation. If they do, it tends to be referred to as unemployment. While I digress from the original point, in some ways, the two connect. I remind my students that they cannot slack off in the final quarter and if they do, their grades will suffer. Their response falls along the lines of “Well, then you will be seen as a bad teacher because all of us failed.”

My logic is that if you don’t do the work, you get a zero. Would any parent complain about that? You better believe it. There is always one who will complain, which no brings me back to grade inflation. Schools are finding themselves being placed under increasing pressure to either get good marks for federal funding, show students with high marks to get them into college, or school want to protect the self esteem of the students by not giving them low marks.

There is the famous “Gentleman’s C,” where if a student has a hard time in the class, but tries and is not a problem student, the teacher will give that person a C. Is it fair?

Some school districts are eliminating certain grades because the value of it has no meaning. For instance, if a student gets a D in my class, they know they came pretty close to failing. In addition to that, parents will see that and want to know what is going on. However, in a number of schools, students will shrug their shoulders and not care. Simply getting by is not the answer for our education system.

Instead, we need to make sure students are challenged and made to push themselves to the limits. If a teacher is tough, but fair, then they should be that way. If the student doesn’t like having to do work in the class, then tough. The students need to get over it, plain and simple. In reading two articles on the subject, it is clear something needs to be done. The first talks about grade inflation in general and is quite informative on the subject. The second discusses a teacher who was told to change her grades and get into trouble.

So how do we fix this problem? If it were up to me, I would use the model my parents used on me: Get home, change, homework till 7, dinner, if homework hasn’t been finished yet, then finish it. If the work was done, then I could enjoy the rest of the night until 10 when it was time to go to bed.

Was it tough? A little, but I am better for it. A system like that creates more self discipline and makes you understand that if you don’t get your work done, there will be consequences.

As for teachers, there shouldn’t be a fear of hurting anyone’s feelings in the classroom. If a student fails, they fail. There are no two ways about it. If the teacher can hold the line in the classroom, then the students will learn to follow those rules and perform better for their classes. While education is a two way street, there still needs to be an understanding that when you are in the classroom, the teacher is in charge and what they say goes.

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