It is no longer simply grade inflation; the issue is the spiral. You know what I mean: QC Freshmen arrive in our classes “hooked” on A’s. They’ve gotten them in every subject in High School. The students are, for the most part, competitive (they probably wouldn’t be at QC if they weren’t at least little competitive). It is, however, hard to determine whether the competitiveness is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. And if it is the latter, then the A-addiction is probably even harder to kick as the student must deal with what I call “helicopter parents,” and the instructor must try to lure the student out from under the helicopter’s shadow.
I teach writing, and every first day of class I give a speech the highlights of which go something like this:
1) As writers, we need to leave our egos at the door. This class is not about producing a product to match a perfect template; it is about becoming better writers. Whatever your writing level is now, by the time you leave this class at the end of the term, you will have become a better writer. To do that, you have to accept critique and criticism of your writing. That’s why ego has to be banished: you won’t become better writers if you defend the kind of writing you do now.
2) As a consequence of the above, do not expect A-s on your papers. You can get A-s for assignments, in class writing, participation and so on; for papers, that will be a rare occurrence indeed. That’s because an essay is not a physics exam or a math problem where there is one correct answer. In writing, there is always room for improvement…
3) A grade is a purely arbitrary construct which—where writing is concerned—is virtually meaningless. I grade process and progress, not product.
and other admonitions of that genre.
Can you guess what happens when I hand back the first essays, painstakingly annotated and commented using Word’s “Track Changes Features”? Yes, they glance at the comments and suggestions and then insist on negotiating an A. In some cases, the ones who received an A-minus are the most insistent.
I have an excruciatingly detailed essay grading rubric which is made part and parcel of the Syllabus; it makes no difference–they are unhappy if they do not get their A. They get A-s in every other class; they’ve gotten A-s for years. They are “A-addicts.”
And here we get to the crux of the matter: as Adjuncts, we are sensitive to (and to some degree dependent on) the evaluations our students make of us. And while some students can be objective and separate their evaluation of our teaching from their disappointment at the grade…many cannot. I personally know several Adjuncts who inflate grades simply because it is easier to not suffer the ire of disgruntled students.
The problem, of course, is that the more of us do that, the more the students (even subconsciously) will ratchet up their expectations. That’s why I call it the “Inflationary Grade Spiral.” How do we stop it?