Friday, November 25, 2016

Academics Pressured to Bump Up Grades

By Professor Doom

     Higher Education really is strange when you start to look at the big picture. Educators have almost no influence on what goes on. Instead, ridiculously powerful, non-education, administrators have taken over our campuses. What are the results? A quick summary:

     1) We all know standards have been annihilated to the point that many college courses require no effort; it’s even quite documented.

     2)  Social promotion is now a part of higher education. Who cares if you don’t know lower level material because there’s no work in the courses, you can still take higher level coursework.

     3)  Grade inflation has made GPA essentially meaningless. The mode grade on campus is an ‘A’—more students get this grade than any other, and on some campuses more than all other grades put together.

     These changes didn’t come from educators. Educators know that standards are important for motivation, for education—we were students too, you see, and know that students usually don’t do more than what is asked of them. If you ask nothing, they do nothing…but admin threatened us to ask less and less, so assigning nothing in a college class is fairly common now.

      Similarly, we know social promotion is a terrible idea—if the student knows he’s going to pass no matter how little he does, then it gets that much harder to motivate the student to work towards an education.

Faculty: “In four semesters and hundreds of students, I’ve failed exactly two students. Also in that time period, I’ve twice received correspondence from admin requesting me to justify and explain my grading system, a system that I’m following to the letter, since it’s set by admin. Of course, both times I had to defend my grading to admin were the both times I failed students. Do you think maybe there’s a message here I should get?”
--a common explanation of how university campus works.

      Grade inflation is a slightly different matter. Of course educators want students to do well, and, sure, we know that an over-emphasis on grades can lead to students focusing too much on the grade and not enough on the material. Still, grades can serve as early motivation until the student gets a real desire to learn. Admin didn’t need to threaten us much to lighten up on grading…but we still were threatened.

      The American-style higher education system, with its eager capability to trap young people in perpetual debt while enriching the connected class, has spread for the most part across the planet. The abuses that faculty in the United States take for granted because we’ve been subjected to them for decades are still relatively new elsewhere, and thus are considered shocking:


     The student loan system has led to a huge increase in tuition; with such an increase, one would expect college degrees to become more valuable. Instead, many degrees are basically worthless, and part of that reason is, within a degree, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the hardworking student with a 3.98 GPA (he met that one tenured professor on campus will uses “old school” grading) from the complete slacker with the 4.00 GPA (he used his slacker connections to stick with all the faculty who just plain got tired of explaining their grading to admin every semester). There might well be some extremely hardworking and bright African-American Studies degree holders…but there’s just no way to distinguish between good and bad.

Some 46% of academics said they have been pressurised to mark students’ work generously, according to the survey hosted on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network, while 37% did not believe teaching was valued by their institution.

      So, about half of academics are feeling the pressure from admin. I ask the gentle reader to read between the lines: 46% feel pressure. The 54% that don’t feel pressure? These are the academics who have learned not to fail students, and to grade as generously as possible (hence, they don’t get pressured by admin).

     It’s hard to believe only 37% realize teaching was not valued by their institution. I’ve seen many good teachers punished for good teaching, and I’ve never seen one rewarded for it. A few good teachers have managed to avoid punishment, but it seems every terrible teacher I’ve known gets praise and kudos from admin for passing everyone.

      Again, I want everyone to succeed…but if the course material is so simple that everyone gets an A, that literally nobody on the planet can fail at learning it, how can you justify charging many thousands of dollars for teaching it? How can you justify your job if you honestly believe everyone can do it perfectly well no matter what you say or do in class? 

     Admin never seems to ask these questions, mostly because admin is too busy congratulating another 100% A-giving teacher on the fine work the teacher is doing.

     The survey didn’t just ask about pressure to raise grades, a few other questions came up:

Many academics said recent reforms, which encourage universities to treat students as consumers and expand their intake, have damaged the quality of education offered to undergraduates. 

       The student-as-customer paradigm, so responsible for the riots on American campuses, is spreading…it really is just a matter of time before we see such riots in other countries. It’s a shame that we can’t use the experience of the failure of this paradigm to stop it from spreading.

Half of the academics and university staff surveyed described their workload as unmanageable.

     It really is strange how my workload goes up every semester. Sometimes it’s incremental—just ten more students in each class, or just one more mandatory set of training seminars on educationist muck. Sometimes it’s wholesale, such as redefining classes as “half credit,” so that I must teach twice as many courses as before…for the same pay. It’s a shame faculty have no voice in these decisions…but I suspect if faculty did have a voice, these types of changes would be laughed out of existence long before anyone even tried to implement them.

      It’s quite understandable that totally disenfranchised faculty, upon seeing their workload go ever higher while pay remains unchanged (or is lowered), just can’t care anymore and so, indeed, we stop assigning so much (or any) work in our classes, absolutely we eliminate our classwork so that socially promoted college students don’t get overmatched by material they can’t possibly know, and, yes, we just award mostly A’s to the students, even as we know we’re not doing anyone any favors.

     And still admin threatens us to give in more…

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