Professor Gradegiver shuffles into the room.
An apprehensive silence falls over the class. Hearts thump nervously. Everyone's inner voice is saying the same thing: "I hope I did well. My whole future relies on me making the grade."
Gradegiver hands back the exam ...
"So whad'ya get?" student A mutters to Student E.
"What's it to you?" Student E is not happy.
"Come on . did you pass?" smiley-faced student A inquires.
"Leave me alone. My whole identity has been insulted. My ego's been shot into Swiss cheese. I'm sick of this grading system. The damn teacher gave me an Extraordinarily bad grade. (Student E doesn't realize that he didn't know the material and earned the E.)
"I wasn't Applauded, and no one shouted, 'Bravo!' I thought I was at least in the Commonplace or Displeasing range. Nope. Extraordinarily bad ..."
We go to class at this university for the grade. The grade is our incentive. We pay tuition. We feel obligated to go to class. We take notes, and study for the test. It's a never-ending cycle the university calls learning. As students, we feel cheated when we earn a bad grade.
But wait, it was an essay test. We hate writing essays, because different teachers give different grades for the same work. Is that fair? We like multiple choice tests, because the answer is either right or wrong. Either you know it or you don't. Maybe all tests should be multiple choice. ScanTron machines don't make mistakes.
What about the effectiveness of tests in general? Tests don't evaluate our true knowledge of a subject. They are artificial assessments of how much information we can cram into our brains the night before.
Why hasn't the Accredited Fair Grading Handbook been published yet? Shouldn't all teachers be trained to grade in the same way, to grade papers objectively rather than subjectively? Shouldn't there be a standard that assures fair grading practices to all? Is that even possible?
All teachers have different grading styles, and inevitably, we get infected with the "I don't know what my teacher wants" syndrome. What style is acceptable? If we write in opposition to the teacher's opinion, will we be graded down?
Sure, teachers always say, "It's not the opinion I grade, but how well it's supported." Maybe, but preconceived biases surely come into play. No wonder we get nervous before getting papers back.
Maybe the university should get rid of Displeasing and Extraordinarily bad grades for good. Shouldn't we be allowed to explore varied educational opportunities without having to worry about failure?
It would never work.
Talk to someone from Stanford, a university that in the past has inflated its grades so no more than 10 percent of students received a grade below a B. In 1970, Stanford abolished Displeasing and Failing grades and allowed students to withdraw from classes up to the day of the final.
Their rationale: Do not fear thy students, for you are here to explore the educational opportunities that surround you. Your transcript will go untainted. Enjoy your studies. Be happy, be merry. We'll applaud your efforts to become a well-rounded intellectual. Admirable endeavor, but they ultimately reinstated failing grades in 1994.
So what would happen if our campus just did away with Displeasing and Extraordinarily bad grades? No one would study? Campus anarchy?
We are consumers at this institution, and we pay tuition for the opportunity to learn. While some would drink their money away at local bars, many would take advantage of the resources this campus has to offer.
The removal of D's and E's might be considered a punishment to some, however, for there would be no incentive to do well. Student motivation levels would plummet, and the very walls that hold this institution of learning together would crumble.
Here's a possible solution to this seemingly incurable grade dilemma. The university could give one standardized test to students in each major before awarding diplomas. Make the degree the incentive rather than the middle of the road course grades.
Imagine the pretest anxiety for that one.
Adam Djurdjulov is a journalism junior. His column appears every other Thursday.
Read Next Article