« September 2005 | Main | November 2005 »

October 19, 2005

Grade inflation

In tenth grade, one of my teachers told the class a supposedly funny story as he was handing tests back. He told us about a former student who had asked him: "Why did I get such a good grade?" That was the whole story. This teacher couldn't understand how someone could question a good grade. I guess the idea is to keep your mouth shut and not push your luck, even if you think there's been a mistake.

I've been complaining about grade inflation since a few weeks after the start of 11th grade (Norwegian: videregående) when I started getting tests and essays back. I remember thinking: "But I don't even understand this subject. How could I get a top grade? Don't they expect more from me?" I felt like I was banging my head against the ceiling - I had reached the top and I wasn't happy. It's not that I was doing perfectly in everything: I knew I was better in some subjects than in others and that relatively to my best subjects, I was struggling in some areas. But that didn't show up on my report cards. At the end of the school year, I received a top grade in Math - although I hadn't gotten a single top grade on any of the math tests during the year. It just felt wrong, and it seemed to devaluate all my other grades.

Once you have top-grade-status, two nasty side effects come into play:

  1. Some (or all, depending on your school) of your teachers stop helping you. If you have a question, the reaction is equivalent to: "You're getting a good grade for this. What's your problem?" Feedback on the paper you work on for weeks is just the grade, maybe with "Of course" or "Again" in invisible ink. These teachers will never tell you what you need to do to improve, to move on up.
  2. You're expected to keep right on getting top grades. Slip-ups, however minor, seem enormous and alarming. Whether it's teachers saying they're disappointed, competetive peers feigning sympathy, classmates with lower grades going into shock or just you pressuring yourself, once you're a top-grade-student, a less than top grade can feel like the end of the world. Some say this is why students who are great in one subject are sometimes automatically great at others: they're expected to succeed and - through a combination of teachers' subconscious prejudices when grading and the ambition students have once they're at the top - they do. This can be a good thing, but it can also remove all the joy of actually getting the top grades you do work for. An occasional ok grade is a huge disappointment, while every good grade is a relief.

In this article The Economist looks at one Harvard professor's way out of the grade inflation problem. It also explains the problem very well in the last paragraph.

"People who are coddled with unearned A-grades despise the system they are exploiting. Living on a diet of junk grades is like living on a diet of junk food. You swell up out of all decent proportions without ever getting any real nourishment. And you end up in later life regretting your disgusting habits."

I wish the Norwegian school system had an impossible grade, the one they would give Einstein if he had taken Physics class with me last year. There probably is some wisdom in what my friend's French chef teacher said about the French 20-grade system: "20 is for God. 19 is for me. 18 is for you."

Posted by Julie at 11:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 9, 2005

Stay Hungry. Stay foolish

Over breakfast a few days ago, I was reading a fairly boring newspaper article that I probably didn't really understand, when my father placed a sheet of paper on top of the article, and said: "Read this instead!" So I did. As my family stressed around in the kitchen, I read Steve Jobs' speech at the 2005 Commencement at Stanford University. I suppose this text is old news by now, having circled the net for a while, but I'm putting a link to it right here, mainly for my non-blogging friends.

You should read it because it is very well written. It's almost poetic in a way you wouldn't expect a commencement speech to get away with without turning mushy. If we allow ourselves some prejudice, it is also surprisingly poetic from someone it would be easy to dismiss as pure computer geek. This speech is good for shaking off such prejudices: it shows a genuine love of learning, rather than of gathering grades; it suggests that a guy wandering around a college campus returning bottles for cash, could be pretty smart; it proves how seemingly worthless knowledge might come to amazingly good use. Above all: it gives valuable life lessons without sounding as pretentious as the very phrase "valuable life lessons" does. Enjoy.

Posted by Julie at 5:24 PM | TrackBack

Hvordan verden egentlig ser ut

Dette bør sees av alle som vil uttale seg om det internasjonale samfunnet og internasjonal økonomi - altså alle studenter på Internasjonale Studier! Det er et foredrag på svensk av Hans Rosling, professor i internasjonal helse, som viser fascinerende data om hvordan godene egentlig er fordelt i verden. Jeg skal ikke skrive mer, for dere bør heller bruke tiden deres på å klikke her.

Hvis tekniske problemer eller ekstremt tidspress gjør det umulig å se foredraget, må dere som et minimum se her for å få med dere i hvert fall ett av de mange poengene Rosling gjør i foredraget. Etterpå kan dere se på software som Rosling bruker for å fremstille disse tallene på en så underholdende og pedagogisk måte, og det kan dere gjøre her hvor dere også kan finne mer tall om samme tema. Jeg synes jeg husker at Janne Haaland Matlary har sagt at hun ikke liker tall, men jeg tror likevel vi bør kjenne til akkurat disse.

Posted by Julie at 4:58 PM | TrackBack