Every semester at this time, I start questioning my evaluation and grading practices in my freshmen course. It's 4 credits (most classes are 3-credits here), general education, and fills a science lab requirement. As a result, I have 95% non-majors and of those 99% are non-science majors. I try to teach the course in a way that is accessible and allows students to earn decent grades, even if their exam scores are not stellar. The outcome is that I generally give a LOT of A's and a LOT of B's and a few C's. The only people with D's and F's are the ones that really try to fail- by never attending class (except for exams), missing labs, missing term paper deadlines, etc. This sounds similar to New Kid's policies and outcomes. I think that the students who make an effort, do get something out of the course and should receive a decent grade in return.
So why is it that I feel guilty or as if I have failed somehow as an instructor if very few of my students are earning C's and D's? I fear that my chair will look at my grade point average for the course and tell me that I should 'do something about it'. This semester is particularly skewed to the A-end. My mean grade is B+, with a median of A- (there are about 90 students in the course).* I agree this sounds high- and it is higher than in past semesters, but the exam scores were high this semester. Maybe my TA was too easy of a grader? Maybe my tests are too easy, now that students are covering more of this material in high school (due to my state's graduation test)? I mentioned to a current student that the exam scores were really high and he said 'well, you're a good teacher.' That is the absolute LAST thing that would even occur to me! That I prepared them so well that they excelled on exams? Why cannot feel like that is the cause?
Whatever the reason, I am feeling like I need to make the course more challenging next semester. The downside of that approach is that the students who truly struggled this semester will be even further down the grading spectrum next time. I feel like any student who shows up, does the work, comes to office hours or tutoring for help, makes the effort, and has a good attitude should earn at least a C in the course. The D's and F's should be reserved for students who really blow things off. At the same time, I don't want to be accused of grade inflation. So I am torn. Right now, my exams count for less than 20% each (for a total of less than 60% of the final grade). The rest of the grade is determined by labs, attendance, and the term paper. Should I weight the exams heavier? Make them more difficult? Only use attendance as a 'tie-breaker'? What are your philosophies on grading and grade-inflation? Do you worry if you have 'too many' A's in a given semester?
*For comparison, my upper level courses had means of B for both courses, and medians of B and B-
tags: grade inflation teaching academia general education science