About letter grading

Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. Jessica Lahey writes in The Atlantic that: “If the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully


blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity,rewards cheating, damages students’ peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge.

“Letter grades communicate precious little about the process of learning a given subject. When a child earns a ‘B’ in Algebra I, what does that ‘B’ represent? That ‘B’ may represent hundreds of points-based assignments, arranged and calculated in categories of varying weights and relative significance depending on the a teacher’s training or habit. But that ‘B’ says nothing about the specific skills John has (or has not) learned in a given class, or if he can apply that learning to other contexts. Even when paired with a narrative comment such as, “John is a pleasure to have in class,” parents, students, and even colleges are left to guess at precisely which Algebra I skills John has learned and will be able to apply to Algebra II.  Continue reading “About letter grading”

Why students cheat

Academic dishonesty is not on the rise, James M. Lang argues, despite periodic media flurries suggesting otherwise in the wake of various high-profile cheating scandals. InsideHigher Ed review’s Lang’s newest book, reporting

“Data on cheating are typically self-reported, and may not be fully reliable, but there is no real reason to think that today’s college students are any less honest than their predecessors.imgres

“Still, evidence indicates that most students cheat at least once over the course of their college careers — a fact that may be most concerning, Lang writes, because it means that many classes are failing to help students really learn.

“In his new book, Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press), Lang reviews research on both academic dishonesty and human learning to build a case that the most effective instructional strategies to minimize cheating are the same ones that will best help students to understand and retain the course material. When students are able to grasp the subject matter, Lang believes, they have little motivation to cheat.

“Lang — who is associate professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Assumption College, as well as a longtime columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education — answered e-mailed questions about his new book, offering advice for both faculty members and administrators on how they can reduce cheating and, better yet, help students get the most out of their classes.

“Q: How would you summarize the relationship between student learning and academic honesty (or dishonesty)? What do you think might explain this relationship?

“A: Cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student.  Both sides of that sentence are important. It’s inappropriate, which means that we have to hold the student accountable for the dishonest action, and ensure that we maintain high standards of academic integrity.  But it’s equally true that something in that learning environment doesn’t seem to be working for that student. He might see the course as a curricular requirement that means nothing to him; he might be confused by the assignment or see it as busywork; he might see himself as not having the knowledge or skills he needs to complete the assignment.  Continue reading “Why students cheat”

Academic forgiveness

Virtually all universities now allow some form of “academic forgiveness,” allowing students to tinker with their grade point averages. While nearly everyone is familiar withimages-1

grade inflation, fewer know about grade-point-average distortion. This happens when institutions allow students to selectively omit poor grades from their GPAs, thus offering a new, manipulative path to greater retention and graduation rates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.  “We recently investigated academic policies in eight public institutions across a Southern state, and used this sample to explore how institutional rules play a role in inflating students’ GPAs by creating incentives that undermine students’ work ethic, weaken the comparative value of the GPA, and waste human capital.

“Common academic practices give students opportunities to withdraw from classes without grades, use simple pass/fail grades that don’t count in their GPAs, or repeat courses to replace old grades. What’s new is transferring control over these strategies to students, without much oversight. By selectively employing these registration policies, students are now empowered to overuse academic forgiveness and “manage” their recorded grade-point averages.

“Five percent of the seniors in the study used academic forgiveness policies for 25 to 50 percent of their entire college coursework. Predictably, as GPAs go down, more and more students use these strategies. Over two-thirds of seniors who were in that 5 percent had C-range grades. But overusing second chances is not limited to struggling students. We found that even a few graduating seniors with A-range GPAs used forgiveness policies to keep 20 to 35 percent of their coursework out of their GPAs. Continue reading “Academic forgiveness”