A couple of issues with respect to grades have been discussed in the office this past week. Combine this with the lateness of the semester and student concern about their grades, and it’s appropriate for me to reflect on the meaning of what my grades mean.
Some of my students are bound to be interested in what I think.
I am a learner-centered teacher whose focus is on students acquiring skills to take into the future. I am not a content-centered teacher whose focus is on learning facts and content for the next test, something that will fairly quickly be forgotten. A research study confirmed that my students have a deeper understanding of processes, skills and what it means to learn than other accounting professors in Ohio.
I emphasize that students should study until they fully master the material. Just this week, a student from summer 2012 told me that he still retains the skills from the class. While at Bowling Green State University, a student confided to me that she was amazed at the amount of skill she still possessed two years after studying the accounting for leases in one of my courses. I’ve received so many dozens and dozens of comments from former students about their ability to apply what they learned in practical settings, that I no longer doubt it.
My goal is for students to master skills (that require current knowledge) to such an extent that they should be able to use those skills in the medium range future. If it’s like the skill of riding a bicycle, the retention could be for a fairly long term.
My tests contain questions of the type, “Work this problem to show me you possess a certain skill.” The problem is designed highlight the application of skill. If students work the problem correctly using the appropriate skill, then they get full credit for the problem. I’m not afraid to draw a huge X over a student’s work and write, “No!” Of course, my classes are structured so as to give students copious practice in learning each skill.
- The grade of “A” requires excellent performance. Exam scores are perfect or nearly perfect. Because skills can be mastered (albeit with a heavy amount of practice), perfect scores are attainable. Grades of A in general are attainable, but it takes much work to attain the necessary skill. The grade of A means success in taking the test. All other grades show a degree of failure.
- “B” means less mastery. There is either a persistent pattern of very small errors on most test problems, or four of five problems show perfect skill and the fifth shows a significant error. The grade of B means a failure in part. No student should be happy with a B.
- “C” work shows failure to master some skills. There is success in mastering a majority of the skill areas with significant failure in less than half the skills. C work frequently has small errors on almost all skills. “C” stands for competent much of the time, but not all. Students should be embarrassed to receive a C.
- “D+” work means that a student shows success in mastering a majority of skills, but the degree of master is slightly lower than for C work. I no longer assign many grades of D, as I don’t think those students should be passed on. Most near misses now receive the grade of F. D work means sugar-coated failure.
- “F” work means the skill level is unacceptably low. I can’t in good conscience say that a student is competent.
The final course grade represents my judgment of the big picture. Test scores and project scores inform my judgment, but the grades don’t necessarily add.
by David Albrecht