Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Predatory Grading

At my school, there is a 3.6 curve for seminars. And, surprise, surprise, the average grade in seminars is close to a 3.6. Yes, according to those teaching seminars the average student writes an A- paper.

But that is not the real surprise. What was recently revealed is that some seminar graders were giving much higher grades than the curve allows. Like a 3.7 - 3.8  How can this happen was the question asked by one young faculty member. It's easy, just change grades after grades are submitted. But this hardly explains why it happens. Here was the answer he got to that question.

While I suspect your question is rhetorical, there is an economic explanation. There is an market for grades. On the demand side  are students. What these data tell us is far more about the supply side than we knew before. It is so robust that some suppliers of grades (meaning suppliers of supracompetitive grades) are actually selling grades (in excess of 3.6) that they technically do not have in inventory. So, where do these high grades come from? One point of view is that they are stolen from students not in those classes and the poor dopes who actually expect that there are rules and the rules will be enforced. We are all poorer for it. In language a few can understand, you might view them as predatory grades.

In most markets people do what is profitable. How can giving high grades be profitable. I am not sure. Clearly they mean fewer students complaining about grades. They could also help in the course evaluation area and in the enrollment area. You might even recruit some students to your political philosophy or convince them that you are deserving of their adoration. Put it this way. If the there is a profit in grading, would you want to be a high grader or a low one?

Cheer up. There is good news. Two types of good news, in fact. First, it could get worse so we are actually in a better place than we may be going.  Soon we will compete for students on the basis if the grades we give. Second, in the last year there were only two violators of the 3.6 limit. There is also bad news. One of the habitual offenders knows no limit to what he or she deserves and there is little sign that this or any other administration has uttered the word "no" to him or her.
I can use graphs or equations to explain this if you need it.

Your friend, Bruce

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Back when I was in law school I had a below 2.0 and failing GPA after the first semester.

But I did not know that until two weeks into the second semester of my 1L year because two of the professors were late in submitting their grades.

However, I was not able to attend any classes of my 1L second semester unless my tuition was paid in full.

In my case, 90 percent of that tuition came from federally backed student loans.

At the time, I just figured the institution knew what it was doing and I trusted them.