Professors allow students to pick their own grade
WILLIAM NARDI - UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS BOSTON •AUGUST 9, 2018
literature class at Davidson College this fall will use “contract grading,” allowing students to pick ahead of time their grade for the class and the workload they need to complete to earn it.
The offer is posed by Professor Melissa Gonzalez for her Introduction to Spanish Literatures and Cultures course, SPA 270, at the private liberal arts college in Davidson, North Carolina.
She is one of several professors across the nation who allow this pick-your-own grade method, billed as a way to eliminate the student-professor power differential and give students control of their education. But critics contend it is just another example of how colleges coddle students from the harsh realities of the real world, which includes competition and goal expectations.
As for Gonzalez, she argues there is “a strong pedagogical rationale for contract grading” in an Aug. 1 email to students obtained by The College Fix. “It can help students focus on learning more than on grades, and therefore make more progress in their learning, with less anxiety.”
Gonzalez did not respond to repeated email requests for comment from The College Fix.
“I aim to foster classroom environments that are radically democratic and empower intellectual risk-taking,” Gonzalez states in her profile on the school’s website.
In her email, Gonzalez urged her former students to sign up for SPA 270, indicating that only two students have enrolled thus far and the class is in danger of being canceled.
“I want to make sure you know about some important innovations I am introducing in the course [contract grading] so that you can decide today or as soon as possible whether you want to take SPA 270 in Fall 2018. If you do, please use ADD/DROP as soon as possible to add it, or the course will have to be cancelled,” she wrote.
Gonzalez is a Hispanic Studies professor who also teaches in the Gender and Sexuality Studies department. In her email, she told students they could “sign a contract indicating the work that they will do in order to earn that grade.”
“At the end of the semester, if the student completed the specific work they said they would, at the satisfactory level, they receive the grade they planned to receive,” her email states.
To support her claim that contract grading improves the academic experience for students, Gonzalez cites a 2009 research paper by scholars Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz.
“The contract helps strip away the mystification of institutional and cultural power in the everyday grades we give in our writing courses,” according to the research paper.
“Using the contract method over time has allowed us to see to the root of our discomfort: conventional grading rests on two principles that are patently false: that professionals in our field have common standards for grading, and that the ‘quality’ of a multidimensional product can be fairly or accurately represented with a conventional one-dimensional grade. In the absence of genuinely common standards or a valid way to represent quality, every grade masks the play of hidden biases inherent in readers and a host of other a priori power differentials,” it adds.
In their paper, Elbow and Danielewicz also contend that contract grading is “used frequently, but discussed rarely. A Google search reveals a surprisingly large number of teachers who use some form of learning contract in various disciplines for diverse goals.”
Along with her email, Gonzalez attached two contract grading templates designed by other professors who also use the method: Cathy Davidson of CUNY and fellow Davidson College Professor Mark Sample.
Davidson, in a blog post on the grading method, refers to it as “an act of community.”
Contract grading has also been referred to as “specs grading” in a 2016 op-ed in Inside Higher Ed by Linda Nilson, director of the office of teaching effectiveness and innovation at Clemson University. She explains that “course grades are based on the bundles of assignments and tests that students complete at a pass/satisfactory level.”
“Bundles that require more work, more challenging work or both earn students higher grades. No more points to painstakingly allocate and haggle over with students. By choosing the bundle they want to complete, students select the final grade they want to earn, taking into account their motivation, time available, grade point needs and commitment,” Nilson stated.
“If a student chooses a C because that’s all he or she needs in your course, you can respect that. Under such conditions, students are often more motivated to learn because they have a sense of choice, volition, self-determination and responsibility for their grade, as well as less grade anxiety.”
But not all students are convinced it’s a good idea, including Davidson College senior Kenny Xu, who is majoring in mathematics.
“It degrades trust in your achievement by outside authorities, including employers, grad schools, scholarships etc.,” he told The College Fix. “Imagine if an employer saw that you got an A not because you were truly one of the best in the class but because you fulfilled some requirement YOU personally set. Would he really trust that A? I think not.”
“Colleges are increasingly viewing themselves as a support system rather than an institution of learning,” Xu added. “Learning is not supposed to be easy, or comfortable. Excellence requires that you step out of your comfort zone and compete. Colleges are becoming shelters, which is not what this country nor what this generation needs.”
|Conductor in Residence|
When I was teaching, I used a great deal of self-evaluation in my grading process, and often the students were harder on themselves than I was. But this takes that to a whole new level...
Wow This is good to hear. Another reason that I gave up College teaching in the early 1980s.
This sort of thing will come in handy when the boss asks them to name their own salary.
Ah, choose your own grade. You know. Just like the real world.
I love choosing my own pay raises and telling my bosses how much work I want to do. Don’t you?
Fuck all that.
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Rode hard, put away wet. RIP JHM
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These dumb ass "educators" think they're helping those kids when in fact they are hurting them. They are enabling them to remain weak and stupid, sheltered from the reality of how harsh the world is and how unfair life is.
But I feel there is more behind this than what they want us to believe.
I have a good friend who is a professor at the graduate level.
We spoke about grade inflation in school and she says it's definitely true. This is an example of grade inflation. She said that professors are rated by the students at the end of the semester. If students feel they will receive a low grade, they blame the professor and give the professor lower ratings. Those ratings factor into the raises that a professor could receive. Therefore, professors become very lenient graders in order to get more favorable reviews to ensure they get raises.
It's a fucked up "system."
"In her email, Gonzalez urged her former students to sign up for SPA 270, indicating that only two students have enrolled thus far and the class is in danger of being canceled."
And maybe someone won't get paid?
"Cedat Fortuna Peritis"
|Tinker Sailor Soldier Pie|
I'd like to buy a vowel, Pat. That's right. Give me an "A"!
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The only redeeming part of that article was the statement from the student at the end. That is a young man with his head in the right place.
News flash. Hard work and perseverance are the best route to success.
I believe U.C. Santa Cruz tried something like that for a while in the 90s. I also seem to remember they also tried allowing a student's grade to be determined by the rest of the class. What could possibly go wrong?
They ultimately adopted a system of giving a narrative evaluation with the option of also getting a grade.
After that didn't work, they went to the radical, A to F grading system in 2001. Link
I used to subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education and I remember reading about various grading experiments over the years.
I'm not sure Professor Gonzalez is breaking any new ground here.
. . . not sure I'd want a structural engineer choosing the C/D achievement path.
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|That rug really tied |
the room together.
That says it all right there... All you need to know.
Often times a very small man can cast a very large shadow
Beat me to it. These graduates are going to be less than useless after they leave college.
Guns are awesome because they shoot solid lead freedom. Every man should have several guns. And several dogs, because a man with a cat is a woman. Kurt Schlichter
Don't dismiss them so quickly. Some will return to these liberal colleges and universities to perpetuate the fraud and indoctrinate the next generations.
Believe me most Full Professors I know pay close attention to their pay. Pretty nice gig if you like the University setting.
Oh, I had a chemistry professor like that, except it went something like this....on the first day of the semester he announced, very seriously, that everyone in the class had an ‘A’. During the course of the semester, it was up to us to prove him wrong.
My US History teacher in high school had us vote on the first dat of class. We got to choose between the “Communist” model (everyone gets a C regardless of work/test scores) and the “Capitalist” model (you get the grade you earn). Happily, we went Capitalist, but it was interesting which folks voted Communist. He was a really interesting teacher and explained many tidbits, like where the term “Son of a gun” came from and what it meant.
Am I missing something here, I don't see a problem. As I understand it, If I want an "A" I do the work needed for an "A", then I get one. If I want a "C", I know what I have to do for the "C", then I don't knock myself out doing more work than I need to for the grade I want.
Do the interns get Glocks?
Actually, this doesn’t sound too bad. I was never a straight A student. In fact, sometimes I would do just enough to get a B in some classes in order to spend more time in others.
The problem was in classes that graded on a curve so it was hard to judge what level of effort would yield a B.
It can be that way in life too. Some people want to work just enough to get a decent raise but not get promoted. Promotions may upset your preferred work / personal time ratio.
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - B.Franklin
"Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it." L.Tolstoy
|Savor the limelight|
Not sure I understand what the problem is with a professor laying out at the beginning of the class what it takes to earn various grades in the class.
|thin skin can't win|
What utter BS.
All this dribble about knowing and explaining what it takes to earn a C is just more effort at encouraging/endorsing mediocrity. This is college, not coloring book school. If you can't operate under the same expectations, pressure and goals as everyone else then move aside.
For those of us who attended middle school, high school, college or grad school we all knew what it took to get a C. It took less than to get an A in terms of homework completion, study, labs, prep, whatever. I want to settle for a C that's fine, but don't dumb down the objectives to a custom plan for the people who don't want to even operate on the same objectives.
Not a 4.0 student but I know EXACTLY why.
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