Tis the season for grade complaints. A complaint can come in many forms, but they never come as self-complaint.

Student A might say: “Sorry about the C+. Next time I’ll really bear down on the course goals, take better notes, really study the journal criteria, and put my nose to the grindstone.”

If we must provide signs, institutions like a range of marks. + signs and – signs. In my area, pluses and minuses can create lots of confusion. If a C+, then why not a B-. Then why not just fudge it up a little more for whatever reason? On the other hand, we could always take a C+ and crank it down a little more to a C. A C+ generally means that a student has met the course goals to some satisfaction. They’ve demonstrated enough knowledge of the material to signal that grasp of a majority of the material but still need lots of work on the substance of the content. In general, a person demonstrates that they understand the concept of prosody or have grasped Shakespeare. They can articulate what happens in a play, but their knowledge of the details is inconsistent and their writing may reflect that. It’s more complicated than this. What’s more complicated is the POV students have vs the POV of the professor not just about the interpretation of a grade but also its meaning.

Grades are neat statistics, but the concepts a student may take from a course are more important in the long run. Other than to limit conversations to the structure of an essay and the elements of poetry I think are significant to thinking about it, I know of no other way of getting away from the borishness of grade discussions.

2 thoughts on “Grades

  1. jrevillini

    what’s your take on subjective, narrative reviews of [student] work? isn’t it a little more real/normal since that’s what you’re going to get at work or in an organization?

    maybe i missed your point, but your critique of plusses and minuses caused me to question letters vs. straight numbers (0-100), and that caused me to look deeper and question the point of the numbers.

    i guess numbers are an easy quantifier to guage yourself against your peers, but the explanation of how you can improve should be valued more heavily. what’s the motivating factor to improve?

    how about food? if my essay rocks, give me a fillet mignon (or a fillet mignon minus if there are a few mistakes, like i didn’t bother capitalizing anything ;)

  2. Steve Post author


    Precision in evaluation is possible, even in paper evaluation, and your first point is, as you well know, complicated. In evals we should always avoid hypocritical expectations and methods. If I want an underlined thesis or main point in an essay and a paper is handed without the underline, then the grade is 0: that’s about as fair as it gets. Let’s say also that an essay shows no demonstrated knowledge of the ring-giver relationship in the context of Beowulf and its relevance to King Lear in a different cultural context. Again: 0.

    Let’s also say that a student writes this on a strict data typing quiz:

    var jackknife = new array ();

    Grade 0.

    72 vs. 73 is an illusion.

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