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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Random: New York Times story on Grade Expectations 
27th-Feb-2009 11:30 am
Dan and Mike were talking about this one. This inflated sense of expectation is one thing that really struck me as being different during my teaching experiences at Marquette, when I compare them to my own undergraduate experiences, as reluctant as I am to perhaps admit full generational differences having already occurred. Perhaps, too, there is the difference of making into a first-tier university. Pretty much everyone here was up around the top of their high school classes. For that to be the new "average" can really come as a surprise. So I was interested to see that there's been some academic study of this phenomenon, although that doesn't get much development in the article....

Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes
By MAX ROOSEVELT for The New York Times
Published: February 17, 2009

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

“I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it,” said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Professor Greenberger said that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offered another theory.

“I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” Professor Brower said. “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ “

In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

At Vanderbilt, there is an emphasis on what Dean Hogge calls “the locus of control.” The goal is to put the academic burden on the student.

“Instead of getting an A, they make an A,” he said. “Similarly, if they make a lesser grade, it is not the teacher’s fault. Attributing the outcome of a failure to someone else is a common problem.”

Additionally, Dean Hogge said, “professors often try to outline the ‘rules of the game’ in their syllabi,” in an effort to curb haggling over grades.

Professor Brower said professors at Wisconsin emphasized that students must “read for knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas.”

This informal mission statement, along with special seminars for freshmen, is intended to help “re-teach students about what education is.”

The seminars are integrated into introductory courses. Examples include the conventional, like a global-warming seminar, and the more obscure, like physics in religion.

The seminars “are meant to help students think differently about their classes and connect them to real life,” Professor Brower said.

He said that if students developed a genuine interest in their field, grades would take a back seat, and holistic and intrinsically motivated learning could take place.

“College students want to be part of a different and better world, but they don’t know how,” he said. “Unless teachers are very intentional with our goals, we play into the system in place.”

A version of this article appeared in print on February 18, 2009, on page A15 of the New York edition.
27th-Feb-2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
I also consider an A the default, and if I were to get a C it would mean I was not meeting the standard. I think the whole system has come to demand "the B average", at least in terms of "the consequences" - what people see when they look at your GPA, the minimum requirement for reduced car insurance, the requirement for sorority or athletics involvement, or whatever else motivates students to get good grades who otherwise wouldn't be motivated. We're concerned to get Cs partly because we've been taught that school is a system that you have to work, and partly because relative to everything else, a C is a big problem.

I don't think of learning things that I like in terms of working the system, but I usually can't help feeling that way about bad classes, bad teachers, or core classes that I don't want to learn from (eg. Understanding the Weather). Also, since my intention in learning about history or philosophy or theology is not "earn an A" but "learn something well and keep learning," the grade doesn't even factor in - I'm happy to get an easy A, or a non-easy A, and I don't care what other students get as long as I'm doing my thing.

So I dunno - people who care about education seem to hold simultaneously that "high grades should not come easily" and that "learning is not about grades." I like a rigorous grader more than most people, probably, but I'm almost as happy with a "B is average" grader, as long as the lectures are good and the work itself isn't inane.
27th-Feb-2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
It was Eustace Clarence Scrubb who helped me to see the sheer obscenity in being interested in grades but not in the topic itself.
27th-Feb-2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
I thought you were meant to be dissertating!
27th-Feb-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
I'm baking a pie for lunch. Give me a break!
27th-Feb-2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
27th-Feb-2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
A chicken pie, to be exact.
27th-Feb-2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
I liked it better when I was imagining apple pie.
27th-Feb-2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
Ooo! Remember that big apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, raspberries and blackberries at that place I took you for dessert? Now that's a meal!
27th-Feb-2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Do I remember a dessert you ate... *counts* almost two years ago?

Of course I do.

27th-Feb-2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
"I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B."

This sort of thing is shocking, but not all that surprising (if that makes sense). In a sense, one's grade should have nothing whatsoever to do with the effort one puts in... if one is able to perform effortlessly at an exceptional level, that should earn an A. If one puts forth a herculean effort but is unable to demonstrate a basic understanding of the material, that should earn an F. Doing what is required and demonstrating a minimal understanding of the coursework should earn a D, or maybe a C if that's the minimum for recieving credit for having completed the course. It's strange that this isn't obvious.

As a student, I was no stranger to the feeling that I was being graded unfairly, or that the effort I was putting in wasn't reflected in my grade. But I don't ever recall thinking that my effort, by itself, warranted a higher grade. It was more akin to thinking, perhaps while taking a test, "I studied really hard; why don't I know this better?"
27th-Feb-2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
But that's because you're smart. And self-reflective. And you expect to be able to learn things if you study them. Because you're smart.
27th-Feb-2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
We are smart when we realize that we are not smart. Socrates said something like that. Or at least he would have if he'd thought something like that. He was a talker.
27th-Feb-2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Socrates also said, "I drank what?"
27th-Feb-2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
And I think that, for attentive teachers, the grade is not the whole of the story. Thus the power of Letters of Recommendation. I can think of academically gifted students who took my classes and did not find it difficult to do academically excellent work, but who I didn't find to be terribly impressive students. They were just gifted at information gathering and use, but didn't necessarily fully engage the material.

Then I can think of a student who I failed in my first year of teaching high school Church History. She blew off the class, and could have cared less doing it. When she took my course again a year later, she had been hit with a few hard life lessons in the meantime. She was not gifted academically, and worked like a dog in my class to earn a C, asking real questions and seeing in the material spiritual depth, life lessons and illustrations that she missed entirely the year before. I am more proud of her C than of any grade I ever gave out.
27th-Feb-2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
But but but I worked *really* hard on this.

I actually printed this article the other day and put it on the break room table. I'm trying to get my staff to read things that aren't in US Weekly, especially articles that deal with higher ed stuff.

But yeah, I'm showin' up. I'm gettin' at least a B. Just for showin' up. That's how I roll. And I'll be the first to let my professor know just how it's gonna be. Thug higher ed lyfe.
27th-Feb-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
How Freekish are you?: working in higher education and interested in it!
27th-Feb-2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
From (t)each according to his ability (to grant As), to each according to his failed effort
2nd-Mar-2009 10:08 pm (UTC) - Enough
with the pie and drink and serve something fresh.

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