Confessions of a Grade Inflator

Getting schooled.
May 14 2014 11:57 AM

Confessions of a Grade Inflator

Between the grubbing and the blubbering, grading fairly is just not worth the fight.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

In the classroom, I can be formidable: I’ve been known to drill-sergeant lethargic students out of their chairs and demand burpees; I am a master of the I’m Not Mad, I’m Just Disappointed scowl. And yet, when it comes to assigning an end-of-semester letter value to their results, I am a grade-A milquetoast. It’s grading time once again, and I’m a softie as usual: Of my current 33 students, 20 are getting either A’s or A-minuses.

Rebecca Schuman Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

And I bet you anything the A-minuses are pissed.

It’s not that I just “give” students good grades. Each course I teach has a meticulous assessment breakdown, taking into account participation, homework, quizzes, and essays—and for the latter, I grade with a rubric, which both minimizes griping and allows me to be slightly fair. But even with all of these “hard-ass” measures, the ugly truth is that to get below a B+ in my class, you have to be a total screw-up. I’m still strict with my scale—it’s just that said scale now goes from “great” to “awesome.” It’s pathetic, I know. But when you see what professors today are up against, maybe you’ll understand.

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If I graded truly fairly—as in, a C means actual average work—the “customers” would do their level best to ruin my life. Granted, there exist professors whose will to power out-powers grade-gripers. There are stalwarts who remain impervious to students’ tenacious complaints, which can be so single-minded that one wonders what would happen if they had applied one-fifteenth of that focus to their coursework. I admire and cherish those professors, but I am not one of them. You know why? Because otherwise, at the end of every semester, my life would become a 24-hour brigade of this:

My time is worth more than said bombardment. Everyone’s is. The other day, a friend of mine who teaches at a tony private university in the South messaged me in a huff: “I posted my grades at 10:00, and by 10:04 I had two hysterical complainers. OMG. I hate grades. #Hampshire,” she pined, wishing to work somewhere like proudly grade-free Hampshire College in Massachusetts. As she was typing, another complaint came in.

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