An exchange with a few students today got me really upset and so I wanted to write about it to get my thoughts out. The students were questioning their grade on a project. They both had gotten a C but *wanted* a B. The project has a rubric but the translation to a grade is subjective, so I told them that they could explain to me why they thought they should have a higher grade. It wasn’t the fact that they wanted to argue for a better grade that bothered me, it was the way they went about it. They were basically arguing that since they felt like they had worked hard on it that they should get a B. And they were really trying to make me feel like I was judging them unfairly with the grade I gave. One of them even used the term “biased”. But when we looked at the work, it was clear that they did not complete all the requirements and when we looked at the rubric, they didn’t meet many of the criteria for a successful project. So then they wanted to know *exactly* what I wanted them to do in order to get a B. And I wasn’t sure what to say at that point. It started to become clear that they were not going to do the work I wanted them to do, which is to look again at the project requirements and the rubric criteria and then improve their work until it was closer to meeting them. So we kind of left it there, I told them I would be willing to look at any additional work they put in and change the grades accordingly. But in the meantime, I went and looked at their overall GPAs (relevant detail – they are both seniors and today is their last day). I noticed that neither of their overall grades for the course would change if I made this one grade change. So I told them that and they both *immediately* said some version of “oh. well I don’t care then, nevermind.” It didn’t hit me right away but after some thought I realized that this was them admitting that they didn’t really disagree with my assessment of their work. They just didn’t like the C that came with it and this made it difficult for them to argue for a higher grade.
It is sometimes hard to pinpoint my problem with grades, but this interaction is a great example of it. I feel like the students were basically being dishonest in that they were arguing that their work was high quality and that they had tried their hardest when I don’t really think they agreed with that. If they were being honest, they would admit that they had wasted plenty of class time just chatting or looking at random videos while I wasn’t looking. And if they were being honest, they’d agree that their work did not meet the criteria from the rubric. So what is making them be dishonest?
I believe it is the fact that they feel the need to get the grade, whether or not they do the work or learn anything.
So what changes if we take the grade away? I don’t think they would’ve done *less* work than they did, and that’s the main argument I hear from other teachers – that the grades are all that’s motivating some kids. But I do think it’d remove the reason for lying in a scenario like this. With descriptive feedback only, they wouldn’t feel the need to try to guilt me into anything because it’s not a transaction the way grades are. They’re not trying to get anything out of me. The only thing to be expected of me is honest feedback and I already gave that. Of course you can disagree with feedback, and if you really do disagree, then the only thing to do is provide a counter argument – and that is what I was looking for them to give all along!