I'm temporarily hijacking this in a different direction (or am I?), but
a focal point I have with college kids these days is their passion for
an A. Actually, I guess there's nothing wrong with passion – I'm talking
more about a disease. Many/most seem to care about the A more than the
learning, and I have to believe that it's tied up in the testing they
are used to by the time they get to college, although I can't always
tell if they're just channeling their parents.
I'm about to teach a class that's highly technical but also has no
prereqs – I'm guaranteed to have, by design, a wide range of skill sets
starting out. Not everyone will get As but 90% of them believe they
will. When I try talking to students about their grades, I often recount
that in my career, when I was part of evaluating a new-hire, none of me
or my colleagues EVER looked at grades – we did NOT care. But these
students live and die by them, and they are convinced that their futures
depend on them. And at times I'm not sure I can fault them – it's simply
not true that their grades won't be considered, perhaps strongly.
Although it seems like med schools and grad schools are (very slowly)
waking up to this (our dept dropped the GRE last year in terms of
accepting grad students, for example), the indoctrination about grades
seems as difficult to overcome as stage 4 cancer.
How do we start with this chicken and egg – do we attack the testing, or
the emphasis on grades? Which begets which?
And I'm not one to say to toss it all out. I'm not smart enough to
figure out a system that doesn't test and doesn't have grades – I'm not
Aside: when the pandemic took hold and we shut down and turned our
classes remote in the space of just 10 days last spring, we were also
hit with an unbelievable uptick in cheating on exams. This was widely
publicized so I'm not surprising anyone with this revelation. I estimate
that up to 30% of our students may have been cheating (because we caught
10% red-handed and had good evidence that wouldn't stick against another
10% so I just added another 10 to that). This was discouraging enough,
but what really got to me were the number of *A-students* who were
cheating. There is only one reason this could be – they will do
anything, anything, to maintain a 4.0.