What Do Grades Mean?

Grades. Are they the measuring stick of academic achievement? By most accounts, potential employers, graduate school admissions committees, and even the school of your major care immensely about the quantification of your achievement. Here’s a link to an article by a professor that scares me witless:

I’m just back from a committee meeting at which the subject of grades and grade distributions came up, and it became clear to me that academics (even at the same institution, even in the same field) have wildly different philosophies about just what grades ought to mean.

There are the normal-distribution folks, who think grades ought to convey how you are doing relative to the other people taking the class. The average grade is a C, no matter whether that average corresponds to demonstrating coompetence on 40% of the content or 90% of the content. The grade you get is dependent on how many standard deviations above or below the mean you are. (It should be mentioned that there are universities — including some with very high tuitions — where the mean is more like a B than a C, but where the general approach is still a normal-distribution approach.)

Then there are the grading-on-mastery folks, who use grades to identify how well you have mastered the material. An “A” paper will be one where you’ve mastered almost all of the material, while an “F” paper is one where you show little to no mastery of the material. Folks who approach grading this way often have nice rubrics that will spell out the virtues an “A” paper must instantiate, those that a “B” paper must instantiate, and so on.

I fall squarely on the mastery spot. To me, effort and results, as measured against the expectations of the professor, should be the only factors, with results far outweighing effort. How many times have I heard, in the business world, “I don’t care about effort, I only care about results!” Results should count…….not my position on an arbitrarily imposed curve that meets the expectations of the department chair. Give me, Professor, your expectations at the start of the semester, measure my performance against those expectations during the term, and give me a final evaluation before I can be promoted. That’s life in the real world, and that’s what we studnets ought to be learning in the academic world.


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“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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