November 21, 2005

Grades. Do they mean anything?

Many years ago, at the first university I worked at, the Oral English class teachers were not required to provide a numerical grade for each student, only to indicate whether the student passed or not. Then that changed.
Most of the universities I have worked at recently all require teachers to assign a numerical grade out of a hundred. One school requires only a letter grade (A = 80-100, B= 70-79, C=60-69, etc).

When I was just giving pass/fail grades, I felt that was unfair, and frequently commented on it to colleagues.

Recently, tho, I must admit to asking myself, as I "grade" one student with 74 and another with 72, whether these differences really reflect anything real? Not only that, but does the 72 really measure anything of value? Anything meaningful? I could probably take the tallest student as 100, and "grade" everyone with a number that reflected their height compared to this student, and the grades would look perfectly respectable and probably not even students would complain. A teacher has such authority.

I recently read about the air traffic controllers strike in the US a couple of decades ago now, and how they were replaced by managers and fill-in staff hastily trained, and how there were no more accidents than usual!

No idea if that's true, but it made me wonder what would happen if we replaced the Oral English teaching staff with completely untrained and inexperienced folk, done in such a way that no-one would notice. As long as these folk showed up, no students complained, and assigned grades that looked normal, would anyone ever know? And what would that say about the value of the grades?

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