Getting Around

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Little Rant on (Graduate) Grades

What are grades for, anyway? Do they represent mastery? Effort? Performance against a scoring rubric? I just don't know. While I'm still struggling with whether elementary-aged kids should even BE graded in the traditional sense, I do know how I feel about grades in grad school.

They are unfair. More specifically, I think my professors' application of them is a bit unfair.

This is not a gripe about my grades--which were all As and A+s, thank you very much--but about what my grade means. At my university we get grade reports that include context information. That is, we know how many of each letter grade were assigned and how many people were in the class. So, I know that EVERYONE in ALL my classes did well. The lowest grade was an A-, and I think there was only one of those.

Of course you could argue that maybe we really all worked hard, in which case we'd all deserve such grades. If I believed that to be the case, I'd agree with you. The problem is that we are a tight-knit cohort program. We know more about each other than people should know. Some of us have children, jobs, and mortgages to pay. Others of us are right out of college and coasting on mom and dad's dime. So here's what I observed this semester.

Several of our class members had trouble getting to class on time (the record was 2 hours and 30 minutes late for a class that lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes). The lateness was almost everyday. All of our classes are heavily discussion-based, so if you're not there, you can't take part in discussions. Every professor has a provision for discussion, usually accounting for no more than 5% of our grade. Fair enough. Seat time does not equal learning time. I believe in that. I do think the disruptions of coming in late (and then leaving 10 minutes later--not during a break--to go get a sandwich and coffee) should have some consequences, though. The part that's really frustrating is when said persons schedule their arrival right before break and then sign the sign-in sheet as everyone's leaving for a breather. And then they join the rest of us on break. The ultimate is when late people raise their hands to ask questions or contribute to the discussion right after they get settled. They usually bring up something that's already been covered, but not once did a professor call them on it. So frustrating!

Most of our classes allow for life situations, since many of us are squeezed between home and school. So, the occasional late assignment isn't a big deal. Neither is redoing an assignment when you don't like the grade. After all, we're being taught to let students learn at their own pace with lots of feedback, so it seems reasonable to treat us the same way. There are several individuals in our program who turned in EVERY SINGLE ASSIGNMENT late and then complained about the grade. These are people with no obligations. None of the cohort members with kids or part time jobs turned in anything late. If they can get their acts together, surely someone with no responsibilities outside of school can do the same. I would understand family emergencies or dire financial circumstances, but that didn't come into play here except with some of the parents, who STILL managed to get their stuff in on time.

We're not undergraduates. We chose to be in a graduate program. A lot of undergrads are lazy; I was lazy then, too. But the big time is not for lazy people. Lazy people should be asked to shape up or ship out of a graduate program.

So how does this come back to grades? Simple. When a prospective employer looks at my graduate GPA, he or she won't see any difference between my grinding effort, diligence, and attention to detail and the person who didn't bother to come to class or turn in assignments on time. Many of us busted our bums to get good grades, but apparently that didn't matter. All you had to do was pay your tuition and turn something in by the end of the semester to get a good grade.

So why grade us at all? It's not like it means anything.

I feel better now. Thanks.

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