The Chronicle had a first person piece by Louise “not her real name” Churchill called “Professor Goodgrade.” Basically, Prof. Churchill/Goodgrade has changed her grading policies/criteria so that she’s handing out “A”s left and right. Why? So she will get tenure.
Two examples from the article:
I approached the pile of papers with a new attitude. I was only going to give A’s and B’s, except in extreme cases.
I gave a lot of B’s on papers that should really have received some form of a C. I gave A’s where in the past I would probably have given an A- or even a B+. I felt a little polluted, but I also felt the need to receive better marks myself on those cursed computerized forms. I need these students on my side. I need them to like me.
After I returned that set of papers, the class dynamic didn’t seem to change, as it had in other years when I had handed back a slew of C’s. It even seemed to improve, as if the whole class had breathed a collective sigh of relief. I took pains to apologize, in a humorous, self-deprecating way, for a cranky outburst I let escape on a day of numerous class disruptions. I empathized with their stress during midterms and in the weeks leading up to finals. And I padded their grades. I need to get tenure.
I do worry a bit that if my evaluation scores go up, someone may notice that the number of A’s and B’s I’m giving at semester’s end has also gone up, but I don’t think that will happen. I hear from students and other faculty members that grading standards are quite lax among a significant number of my colleagues, most of whom already have tenure. There are a lot of easy A’s out there. So why do I find it so hard to join in on this A fest?
I’ve lowered my standards. I still teach with the same rigor and enthusiasm and I still enjoy the material, but I don’t hold students as accountable as I used to.
I need to get tenure.
Well, good luck to you, Prof. Churchill/Goodgrade, but I doubt this strategy is going to work.
First off, I think it’s not a good thing that the institution in question here seems to be putting quite a bit of weight on “fill in the bubble” scores. I don’t have that much of a problem that these sorts of student evaluations are a part of the mix, but the main way of scoring teaching for the purposes of tenure? That seems a problem, especially at a school that is supposedly emphasizing teaching.
Second, I personally have not experienced the correspondence between the overall student grades and the overall evaluation. Now, I have noticed that in upper-level/graduate courses I tend to get better evaluations, and I also tend to get better evaluations in classes I’ve taught many times before. But I have had plenty of experiences where I have given relatively poor grades (simply because the students weren’t that good) and I received decent evaluations. And vice-versa. So who knows?
Third, it seems to me that Professor Churchill has some other issues she needs to sort out. I think it’s kind of odd that she mentions being “cranky” several times in this piece, for example.
And along those lines, it seems to me that something that Professor Churchill needs to think about (and this perhaps goes with the crankiness) is that teaching and grading are not some sort of contest between the students and the teacher. I think this is a pretty common mistake for younger teachers; it’s certainly one I made. Thinking back, I can come up with a couple of different occassions where I gave grades to “show them,” so to speak. That wasn’t a good idea.
Ultimately, I’m not convinced that Professor Churchill’s strategy is going to work. It seems to me that the way to get good evaluations (besides demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about) is pretty easy: treat your students as you would want to be treated, be polite, professional, consistent, fair, and pleasant. Simple enough.