Saturday, May 12, 2007

Good grades for everyone.

The story is going around the internet about a student who took a true/false test with 100 questions and got all of them wrong. Everyone is concentrating on the “fact” that the student didn’t get one single question correct when he had a 50/50 chance on any one question.

The student was given a generic answer sheet with five possible answers. The test had just two answers. You either filled in A or B, true or false. He filled in C for every single question. Or I should say he supposedly filled in C as there is a chance this is all a hoax.

After failing his test completely he supposedly received this email from his professor.
Dear Michael, Every year I attempt to boost my students' final grades by giving them this relatively simple exam consisting of 100 True/False questions from only 3 chapters of material. For the past 20 years that I have taught Intro Communications 101 at this institution I have never once seen someone score below a 65 on this exam. Consequently, your score of a zero is the first in history and ultimately brought the entire class average down a whole 8 points. There were two possible answer choices: A (True) and B (False). You chose C for all 100 questions in an obvious attempt to get lucky with a least a quarter of the answers. It's as if you didn't look at a single question. Unfortunately, this brings your final grade in this class to failing. See you next year! May God have mercy on your soul. Sincerely, Professor William Turner
Now of course the student might be just having one over on the professor. But all that is irrelevant. What is being considered by most people is unimportant. The real issue, as I see it and if this is genuine, is contained in the professors email: “Every year I attempt to boost my students’ final grades by giving them this relatively simple exam...”

I thought the purpose of a course was to teach students something worth knowing and not merely to give them a high grade. This is the dumbing down of education. If true this professor is admitting that he intentionally gives simplistic tests in order to raise the grade levels. His goal is not teaching but good grades. This is brought home again when he complains “your score of zero... ultimately brought the entire class average down a whole 8 points.” He’s interested in a high class average not teaching.

Now clearly this student, if real, doesn’t belong in university or in this class. I suspect that university is over-attended, which drives up the costs, and it's overrated. The reality is that most employment doesn’t require a university education. And the employment market knows this. The jobs that do require advanced education are few and they, these days, generally require more than a university degree but a masters or doctorate. Many used to settle for a university degree but no longer do so because university degrees are so plentiful, and with teachers boosting grades artificially, they have little value. It seems a huge waste of time and resources to me for most people. It saddles them and the country with lots of debt and gains them little in real terms.

Clearly this professor, if real and if he wrote this email, shouldn’t be teaching. A grade in a course reflects what the student has learned. At least it ought to reflect what he has learned This professor clearly wants high grade averages just for the sake of high grade averages. He has cut the link between grades and learning. And that is one reason a university education have lost so much value. The real story here is not the student but the teacher.