A recent discussion in one of my courses really got me worked up. We were talking about grading, and I don’t usually get so worked up about pedagogical discussions of grading. However, this time, I became quite irritated with another PhD student who proceeded to make everyone feel like they had all been grading wrong and needed to grade her way. Now, this student is not from my department and approaches pedagogy from a different perspective than my colleagues or I do.
Her main argument was that if you create a defined rubric, then grading becomes much easier and students will better understand what is expected of them. Up to this point, I generally agree; however, I could take issue with the “easier” grading part. Then, she argues that a “C” grade should be given when a student completes the assignment properly and completely because, according to the UMN College of Liberal Arts grading guidelines, students should get a “C” for completing all the requirements of the assignment. So, in order to get a higher grade than a “C” on an assignment, a student must do “outstanding” work above the requirements of the assignment.
Now, does this make sense to anyone? It sure doesn’t make sense to me. I think if we ask students to complete an assignment and give them requirements for which they should strive, then when and if they achieve those requirements to our specifications we should reward them with a grade higher than a “C.”
I am not suggesting that we randomly give out “A” grades for “C” work, but I do think we should only expect our students to work toward and complete the requirements that we have laid out for them. We should not expect them to divine some definition of “outstanding” and make them strive for a grade they do not know how to achieve.
Rubrics do not always equal good grades, grading clarity, or ease of understanding by students; however, rubrics often do lock instructors into a set of finite guidelines that leaves no room for maneuverability.