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Monday, October 22, 2012

Grade inflation



Many years ago I went back to school to become an accountant and earn more money. I needed to feed two children, keep them housed and clothed.  Mastering a profession seemed sensible, so I went back to the halls of ivy.  Actually, a beautiful little undergraduate college, Lake Erie College in Painesville. 

This was in the late seventies, I was in my mid thirties and an anomaly.   I convinced the administration to give me a degree based only on taking core courses.  I already had undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and didn’t have time to sit their requirements too! Toward June, after I had completed the accounting requirements I received a cap and gown order form in the mail.  I wrote back to mail me the degree and the dean was so surprised he called me.  I explained I’d been through the ceremony before and couldn’t see taking a day off work.  “Oh,” he said, and mailed it.

I took evening classes, summer classes, weekend classes, and this yielded an interesting assortment of teachers.  Summer professors especially might be from other schools, taking on a part time assignment. I remember a macro economics prof as if it were yesterday.

Very short, very stocky, from Boston.  He looked like a fisherman.  He dressed like a fisherman.  Dark khaki pants, a motley blue fisherman style pullover sweater, a rib knit stocking cap he never took off, heavy boots.  In my mind’s eye I associate a red bandana with him, too; pocket or neck, I don’t remember.  There were no “r’s” in his words and he compensated with attitude.  Instead of the usual desk chair at the front of the room he sat on a high stool beside the desk and lectured.

His was a six week summer course and he immediately assigned an essay to be completed and turned in at the end as our final grade.  He gave some general requirements; I knew exactly what I would write about and started my research.  The year was 1977, the country was suffering a gasoline crisis due to the Arab oil embargo.    Conserving and recycling already were hot subjects and I thought it was time to put one of my pet ideas on paper.

The idea was people should be able to ride bicycles safely, to work, to shop, for recreation.  I wanted bicycle roads built using abandoned rail ways, and extended into city centers.  I located rail lines that could be used. I calculated oil savings that would put OPEC right out of business, in addition to making us a healthy nation.  It was a very good paper and I was quite proud of it.

The dour little professor returned our papers the last night of class.  Mine was on top and had a very large C+ scrawled across the front page in red ink.  He held it high for all the room to see.  He went on, “Grade inflation is epidemic in American colleges and universities.  I am taking a stand against it.  In any college, including Boston University, where I teach, this paper would be graded A+.  Twenty years ago this paper would have received a C for average.  I am very generous in giving it a C+.” 

He walked about putting papers on desks.  Each subsequent grade was lower than mine.  The bastard.



22 comments:

  1. I have no doubt you should have received a higher grade on your essay, but it doesn't sound like you were too concerned about your GPA.

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  2. The bastard, indeed!! Pride in your work is it's own reward ...... but an A would have been the cherry on top.

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  3. I think your language is most restrained!
    Jane x

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  4. I am an advocate for the old days when an A meant an A and was hard to come by. GIving all A's as is fairly common today watersdown achievment...but one grade of C+ as the highest grade?

    I get it; but the guy was a dick!

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  5. I agree with Joey. I admire your "can do" and "get on with it attitude".

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  6. Nice that you just got on with it though. Teachers like that probably don't exist anymore.

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  7. I agree in theory with what the professor said but the thing is if the other professors are giving A's for C papers then who is to know you suffered from a renegade professor when it comes to your GPA. I had a professor once who gave everyone A's because he didn't believe in grades. Nice, except that there was no reward for an extraordinary job.

    I've also thought how nice it would be if we abolished cars and everyone wrote bicycles everywhere.

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  8. Maybe this "bastard" owned stock in GM or Ford.

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  9. Don't we just love it when someone stands by principle and applies their standards right there in front of God and the whole world? Don't we wish he could start his campaign with the class just following yours. They could have listened to his speech about grade inflation.

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  10. And yet, something tells me he WAS impressed with it :) Just exercising his power. Or is that "powah"...

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  11. Huge argument in the UK at the moment. "The Powers that Be" decided that there were too many A's going around and so have introduced a new grading system. Unfortunately, this grading system came into being in the middle of the school year. Therefore, the students who took the exam in January got higher grades than those taking the exam in May -- both having been taught using the same criteria -- with the result that teachers, school heads, students and parents are all screaming 'FOUL' -- The Welsh Assembly ruled that the exam results of their students be re-marked and so now have higher grades than English students -- it's in the courts now!

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  12. I returned to college at age 40. I had four children, a job, and took two classes a semester in the evening for 10 years. I stayed up all night reading textbooks, writing papers, and preparing presentations. I worked so hard for those "A"s and deserved them. Thank God, I never met a professor like you had. As Joeh said, he was a dick.

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  13. What a delightful man. It sounds as if his hemorrhoids had been giving him grief.

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  14. No "r's" in his words? He might have been Australian. We don't pronounce our "r's". We're lazy speakers downunder. Shame about that C+ after all your work.
    I used to think about going back to school, but could never afford it, and I would have to start by first finishing my high school education, before thinking about what else I would study. Even now I have no idea what I would like to study.

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  15. That was one tough teacher with extremely high expectations. Phew.

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  16. What a nasty piece of work he was...and such a poseur.

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    1. He was quite an arrogant man. I always wondered what the grades would have been had he not been going back to Boston, possibly the next day. Which also begged the question, how did he grade in Boston. And what was he doing cooling his heels in such a backwater little town that summer. There was a lot more to those grades than the content of the papers.

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  17. And if he had concerns about grade inflation, how did "taking a stand" by inflicting lower grades on your class address that situation? I returned to college at 43 and consistently got A's on my papers, however I attributed much of that to the fact that I was only an A student compared to all the kids I was in classes with.

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    1. I used to cringe, entering a class full of students half my age. I know they thought "Here comes the curve buster!"

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  18. That's why I like rubrics. They spell out exactly what points you get for what areas of a project. That way you can easily tell if you earned the grade the professor gave you or not. There is less pulling out of his.... than what you experience. ;)

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  19. There's a story behind that man, definitely! Sounds like you were still the top of your class! Congratulations!

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