Letter to the Editor – Oct. 6, 2011
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
In response to “SA pushing for uniform grading” (The Reflector, Sept. 22, 2011) I urge caution. While it is optimal to have a system where the same piece of work will earn the same grade no matter the instructor, the challenges of grade normalization are immense.
Two people can look at the same painting and see something different in it, let alone assign it a value.
To establish a completely effective uniform grading scheme would require an exhaustive list of grading rules that would cover every subject and ensure equity across the disciplines. Only then could you ensure that a student earning an “A” in one class/course/discipline/faculty represents the same level of performance as in another.
I would argue that reading a rubric or course outline would be significantly easier and time efficient than asking students to review the tome of grading rules that would be required for a diverse university such as MRU.
It is true that many well-known institutions have standardized grading. Not having worked at all such institutions I cannot say with absolute certainty, but my experience and that of people I know leads me to the conclusion that these universities simplify the complications of standardized grading by standardizing the grades; they define the average grade for a course.
For example, no matter the year, semester or instructor, some universities will inform professors that the average grade in their course will be “C”. If the students are doing poorly then the grades are normalized upward, but if they are performing admirably then they are reduced to maintain a standard grading from semester to semester.
Under these conditions, it no longer matters how well you perform but how well you perform relative to your peers.
As an undergraduate student, I benefited from — and was subjected to — uniform grading. Imagine taking a physics course where the average final grade is 17 per cent. Thanks to uniform grading everyone’s mark was increased by 48 per cent so that the class average was 65 per cent.
I took a programming course where the average was 85 per cent, so the grades were standardized down 20 per cent. I also took a film studies course where the instructor quite efficiently maintained a uniform “C” average by giving everyone in the class a “C+”, “C”, or C-”.
Personally, I would have just preferred to have my instructors design their assessment methods differently.
Here at MRU I try to foster a community in my classroom where students can work together rather than against one another. We’re not just about being face-to-face for instructor-to-student, but also student-to-student.
Standardized grading and standardization of grades may be two different things, yet one typically leads to the other. I advise against rushing into any institution-wide grading schemes, as the side-effects may be more significant than initially considered.
Brett McCollum is an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological sciences at Mount Royal University.