WASHINGTON, D.C., February 22, 2013 ― On February 18, my university newspaper published an editorial advocating a standardized grading scale. The writer argued that the university should not allow professors to require a percentage higher than 90 in order to receive an A.
The basis for the argument comes primarily from a feeling of unfairness. According to the article, a professor “should be able to lower the threshold to earn an A,” but raising it “is deceiving and can really affect students who work hard.”
That is incorrect. For a grade cutoff to be “deceiving,” the standards must be misleading or confusing to students. “Deceiving” also implies that professors are trying to trick students into receiving lower grades. This is simply not the case. If a grading scale is on the syllabus for the entire semester, there is nothing deceptive about it.
The main problem with the editorial is its use of entitlement language. A highlighted portion of the article comments on students’ “hard work,” claiming “we’re shorted when a professor doesn’t give us the grade we would have earned in practically any other class without a skewed grading scale.”
Do we really deserve the grades we think we deserve? From my experience, we are quicker to call something “unfair” and blame the system than to acknowledge our own failures. The mentality that says that we, as students, should decide which grades we should get from our classes is jarring.
A growing sense of grade entitlement has surfaced at other schools as well. The New York Times focused on a specific situation in 2009, and another author analyzed some of the responses to the article.
My university has a reputation for academic rigor. We could sacrifice our standards in order to increase students’ average GPAs, but that would be damaging to our national reputation. If we are to be truly concerned with learning and educational attainment, we must look beyond our grades on paper.
The editorial argues in its conclusion that, “at the very least, students should be able to enter a class and know, before a syllabus is given, what an A is.” Why? Where else in life are we able to know the requirements of success before seeing the requirements?
We need to work on teaching responsibility, independence, and motivation to our young people. Let’s stop blaming “unfair” grading scales and instead work on motivating students to excel in their classes, whatever it may require.
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