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September 22, 2016
Because of "grade inflation" (the common grade at Harvard is 'A'), some teachers have been going back to grading on the curve. But it has problems, too, as considered in this article in the New York Times:
[T]he forced curve suffers from two serious flaws. One: It arbitrarily limits the number of students who can excel. If your forced curve allows for only seven A's, but 10 students have mastered the material, three of them will be unfairly punished. (I've found a huge variation in overall performance among the classes I teach.)
After analyzing grading systems, the economists Pradeep Dubey and John Geanakoplos concluded that a forced grade curve is a disincentive to study. "Absolute grading is better than grading on a curve," they wrote.
The more important argument against grade curves is that they create an atmosphere that's toxic by pitting students against one another. At best, it creates a hypercompetitive culture, and at worst, it sends students the message that the world is a zero-sum game: Your success means my failure.
Of course, "absolute grading" means you have to have absolute standards for what an 'A' grade means. But I this age of relativism and "who's to say what is best?" that might be a hard sell.
In school there should be wrong and right answers, discernible levels of excellence and mediocrity, just as there is in life. Or should be. Granted, sometimes it's a matter of judgment, but the judgment is an attempt to grade against some set standard, not an arbitrary assignment of value to make students feel good about themselves. Or forcing an inferior grade on a good student because he can't be squeezed into the curve's quotas. If the student performs well according to the standard, he should get the right grade and be happy that others got one as well for excellent work. Or are we subtly teaching students that the world really is and should be 'dog eat dog'? We can do better than that!
Related reading from Salvo:
How Common Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination
by Robin Phillips
From John Dewey to the Ivory Tower of Babel in Two Easy Steps
by Terrell Clemmons
On the Emancipation of Frederick Douglass by Means of Liberal Education
by Thomas Jodziewicz
Also, be sure to take a look at the new issue of Salvo!
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