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May 05, 1976 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-05-05

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The Michigan Daily
Edited and managed by Students at the
University af Mich igan
Wednesday, Moy 5, 1976
News Phone: 764-0552
Unfin heDmort
XE hope that Monday's announcement by Indiana Sen-
ator Birch Bayh of support for the Jimmy Carter
campaign will signal a trend designed to unite the once-
fragmented Democratic party, and snatch national lead-
ership away from the GOP.
Bayh, one of the first Democratic contenders to fade
out of the race, made his announcement strategically
before yesterday's Indiana primary, and at a time that
Carter's incredible momentum had seemed to reach a
peak.
Brushing aside any differences he has with the
Georgian, Bayh did more than leap aboard the proverb-
ial Carter bandwagon; he joined a growing tide of Demo-
crats who will go to any length to prevent the Demo-
cratic fiasco of '72 by backing someone whose chances
of nomination, and victory over the GOP, appear great-
er everyday.
The announcement of support by a former contender
should boost the accelerating Carter campaign, but more
important, it should spark similar announcements by
other party bigwigs, including those who once roundly
blasted the former Georgia governor.
The party, a confusing mish-mash of names and
faces just a few months ago, is beginning to wise up and
act for its own benefit, even if that means supporting
the front-runner Carter. We hope the Democrats can
avoid a brokered convention in July. And with Ronald
Reagan's recent burst of potency threatening to divide
the Republicans, the Democrats might well be in a
strong position on Election Day.
TODAY'S STAFF:
News-Lani Jordan, Ann Marie Lipinski, Ken Parsigian,
Barb Zahs
Edit-Jay Levin, Jim Tobin
Photo Technician-Steve Kagon

Grade inflation: Making
someone of everyone

By MICHAEL ROUTH
More serious than it seems to be at first,
the damage caused by the collapse of college
grading standards during the past decade has
been too long ignored. Quite simply, too many
students are receiving too many As and Bs,
and -- less obviously -- very few students, no
matter how incompetent, are being flunked.
Probably nobody has ever accused the Ameri-
can university of overusing common sense or,
indeed, of using it at all. Presumably the bas-
tion of the rational mind, the university itself
is often run irrationally. Grade inflation provides
a case in point, for when over half the students
receive As and Bs, the exceptional is no longer
exceptional, and the system of evaluation is
rendered meaningless. As Gilbert and Sullivan
observed, when everybody's somebody, nobody's
anybody. Or, as Shaw put it, "in Heaven an
Angel is nobody in particular."
AND LET US DISMISS at once the idea we
sometimes hear used to account for inflated
grades - that students are somehow better
today. This presupposes that students of the
past decade either benefitted from some miracu-
lous leap forward in the evolutionary process,
or that their precollege teachers nationwide sud-
denly developed new and dazzling techniques
that somehow had escaped other teachers for
thousands of years. Suspicious hypotheses, these.
I recall listening atha teacher'ssworkshop to
ooe professor explain his grading scale as con-
sisting of A, B, C, and "No Credit." Fs and Ds,
he held, were somehow punitive - though he
never got around to explaining how a grade
of "No Credit" differed from an F, or how
a C in his system wasn't as "punitive" as the
traditional P. "We're all humanists," he kept
saying, implying that therefore we should all
grade easily.
IF PEOPLE ARE TO improve their minds
in college, then the college must be demanding.
It must require that students achieve legiti-
mate academic standards, rather than adjust
itself as it does now to the level of the stu-
dents. No instructor could amble out to the
football field and say, "Coach, I'd sure like to
make the squad. Trouble is, I'm slow, weak, and
overweight - think your guys could ease up a
little when they hit me and let me score a
touchdown once in a while?" And yet, because
college has become relatively easy, this is pre-
cisely what students have been led to expect -
that if something's too tough for them, well,
we'll make it easier.
Unfortunately, improving academic standards
probably isn't feasible today for that grossest
of reasons: money. The nation's colleges and
universities are scratching as desperately as the
rest of us to stay afloat financially, so admini-
strators aren't likely to beam upon those instruc-
tors who do uphold standards. To many admini-
strators, students are monetary units, and if

they .tart getting low grades and quitting or
flunking out or transferring to easier schools,
then the instructors who are "too tough" are
thought to be costing the school money. In-
deed, the governor of a state in which I once
taught delivered an address acknowledging the
serious financial difficulties of the state's edu-
cational program and saying that the univbr-
sity's job, therefore, was to get as many stu-
dents as possible into each classroom, then to
keep them there by any possible means. This
can hardly be construed as a clarion call for
quality education.
PART OF WHAT A COLLEGE instructor
is paid to do is the difficult and sometimes
painful task of evaluating student performance.
Yet many administrators will fire someone for
doing this task honestly if the result is too
many low grades and will retain someone else
who tacitly ignores it by keeping everybody
smiling with a liberal sprinkling of As and
Bs. The only question that matters, it seems,
is the financial one - whether the monetary
unit, the student, will be lost.
"When over half the students re-
ceive As and Bs, the exceptional is
no longer exceptional, and the sys-
tem of evaluation is rendered
meaningless. As Gilbert and Sulli-
van observed, when everybody's
somebody, nobody's anybody. Or,
as Shaw put it, 'In heaven an angel
is nobody in particular.'"
The trend toward teacher evaluation question-
naires has helped foster insecurity in_ those in-
structors who would like to upgrade standards.
A study recently found that "students rate most.
highly instructors from whom they learn the
least," who also happen to be the instructors
who tend to grade leniently. Similarly, last fall
another survey found that teachers "receive
much higher evaluations from students when
they are required to do less work, receive
higher grades, and learn substantially less."
It concludes: "If it is true that students in-
advertently give higher ratings to instructors
who require less work and give higher grades,
and those instructors are rewarded for 'good'
teaching by their departments and the admini-
stration, while mre demanding instructors are
punished, then there is pressure for all instruc-
tors to behave in this way ... thus, students are
short-changed on the most important commodity
which is supposed to result from their univer-
sity experience-learning."
Michael Routh studies at the English Instifute
of the University of Utrecht.

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