Should we assign grades in a pandemic?

It’s been the question filling up faculty listservs: What should we do about grades?

I can see the variety of perspectives here (except the one about law schools and med schools demanding letter grades–they will figure something out if we refuse to give letter grades).

BUT–let’s be honest for a moment.

The average GPA of an American college student is a 3.15–a B.

Maybe that is totally legit. Maybe students today really are mastering more of the course material than in the past (like in the 1950s, when the average was a 2.5). It would make sense, because they are paying a lot more for tuition, which might create more pressure to learn the material (at least to keep the scholarship that is paying for a portion of that tuition).

But, in any case, if most grades are As and Bs, and at some schools, more than half the grades are As.

In which case, letter grades aren’t doing a great job of distinguishing between the very top students and others.

This isn’t an argument for what grades ought to do but for recognizing that, in many cases, they already don’t tell us which students are the smartest, most hardworking, or best performing.

So we can probably relax a bit amid a pandemic.

, mThe Scholars Painting - The Scholars by Gabriel von Max

Above, two monkeys look as if they are in deep conversation before an open book. One holds a monocle or perhaps a pair of glasses. The Scholars by Gabriel von Max.

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