Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What does a D stand for?

Earlier this month I was reading the sinkhole ahead blog post on Inside Higher Ed, which prompted me to read this little rant on the D written by the same author.

You know it's funny, I've been a student for quite some time now and I've never thought of the "D" much. One semester in my undergrad I just wanted to get a D in calculus II so that I can pass and move on. Calculus II wasn't required for any subsequent courses, but I had to take it and pass it, and quite honestly I felt like I was being dragged behind a bus.

In any case, what is debated is what role does D satisfy? I've always thought about the letter grade system as being things similar to my Greek Elementary school grading
A = 'Αριστο = Excellent
B = Πολύ Καλό = Very Good
C = Καλό = Satisfactory/good
D = Μέτριο = So, so (not quite fail, not quite satisfactory, needs work)
F = 0 (Zero)

Now, one of the blog posts mentions the following

D's make some level of sense if you believe the ancient fiction that a 'C' is an average grade. That hasn't been true for a long time, if ever, but if it were true, a 'D' would carry the relatively clear meaning of 'below average, but still acceptable.' Of course, if it were still acceptable, colleges would take it in transfer. But C's aren't really average, and D's aren't really accepted.

Now my way of thinking of grades, I guess, falls under this 'ancient fiction', but the way I see it is that there is a misstep between what the instructor thinks his grading system reflects and what the school's grading measures reflect. If we all graded based on a system that means the same thing to all graders things would improve. I also think that as people we've been conditioned to think of a C as bad because we are all exceptional students. Should we strive to do our best in class? Of course! Should we all expect to be the creme de la creme? We can expect it, it doesn't mean it's happening.

Now, to clear the air, I don't believe in bell curves and contrived ways of making students fit into a bell curve. If 95% of the class deserves and A and 5% deserves a D, that is how it should be graded, but a C should either be respectable (IF it means "good" or "satisfactory") or else the grading system needs to be reworked so that it actually makes sense.
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