Bad Idea: Limiting “A’s”

By Ariel Kaminer, The New York Times, 8/7/14

[Michael’s Note: Though this article deals with the college level, it raises questions about the purposes of grading at any level.]

Princeton University may soon end the policy that limited the number of students who received A’s for their course marks, an approach designed to thwart grade inflation but one that many students cited as the worst part of their Princeton experience.

The current guidelines seek to limit A-range grades to at most 35% of the students in each course.…

[The change] would represent a major shift for the university, which drew widespread attention in 2004 when it first sought to cap grades. At the time, close to 50% of Princeton students were getting A-range grades in their classes. The university hoped that other colleges would follow its lead. That did not happen….

The proposal to abandon the policy came from a committee convened by [Princeton President] Christopher Eisgruber last fall, during his first year on the job. Its report, also released on Thursday, says that numerical targets “are too often misinterpreted as quotas.”

“They add a large element of stress to students’ lives, making them feel as though they are competing for a limited resource of grades,” it said…. A better approach would be “grading standards developed by each department.”…

Some said the limit on the number of A’s in any given class deprived students of recognition they had fairly earned. One student said the targets had turned classes into “shark tanks.”

“Often even good friends of mine would refuse to explain simple concepts that I might have not understood in class for fear that I would do better than them,” the report quoted the student as saying. “I have also heard from others about students actively sabotaging other students’ grades by giving them the wrong notes or telling them wrong information.”…

History professor Jerry Adelman said the targets reduced grading to a formula, which misses the point. “We should be having a conversation about what we do when we’re grading,” he said. “Grading is a signaling device, and we’re communicating with students. People got really fixated on the numbers and not on the practice of what we’re doing.”…

Wisdom worth sharing...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Comments are closed.