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Re: Defining Student Success

At 07:58 AM 6/2/01 -0400, Jeff Weitz wrote:

I hope what follows is an appropriate question for this list.

Looks good to me :-)

Sometimes a teacher will say something like, "this student has the grades
but he/she is not really an honor student." I always think, "why are we
giving high grades to anyone but our most successful students?"

After years of thought, I have concluded that I will never understand what
grades mean.

I'm on a committee that gives out fellowships. I get to see transcripts
from all over (plus essays, test scores, and letters of
recommendation). Also, each year we interview a couple dozen finalists in
person, so I get a chance to compare the paperwork to (some snapshot of)
the reality. Furthermore, we keep in touch with the fellowship-holders for
many years afterwards.

Grades? Grades?????

They tell me grades in high school are a good predictor of grades in
college, which are in turn a good predictor of grades in grad school. But
I don't know what !any! of those things mean.

How do I compare somebody who got Bs at MIT with somebody who got straight
As at Faber College?

Even if there are two candidates from the same school, suppose one of them
(as an undergraduate) snuck into graduate-level courses and got Bs, while
the other got As in the standard courses. Then what?

How do I compare
-- someone who didn't have time to do all the homework (because he held a
part time job _and_ played principal cello in the local orchestra) with
-- someone who spent a lot more time on homework (because he didn't need
to worry about money and didn't have other interests)?

What about people who would work on the homework up to the point where they
understood it, but wouldn't finish it or turn it in, because they just
didn't care about grades, and had more interesting things to do with their
time, like building an FM radio station from scratch in their dorm room, or
working in the research lab?

And what about someone who didn't have time to do all the homework, because
she doubled up on courses in order to graduate in three years, because she
couldn't afford four years of college, and hopes to get a fellowship so she
can go to grad school?


Grades don't define success. Neither do test scores.

Success is multi-dimensional. Grades are a _rough_ indication of some
traits but not others. What do grades tell me about traits such as
generosity, integrity, courage, incisive insight, sense of humor, et
cetera? Traits that are required for success in one field may not be
suited for another field (sculptor, fighter pilot, laboratory researcher, ....)

It's sort of like fancy clothes. If I'm introduced to somebody who is
wearing really nice clothes, I'm impressed -- for about 10
milliseconds. Then I want to know what sort of _person_ that person is.