Wednesday, March 5, 2014
John, learning at the feet of the dark lord.
In case you haven't had a chance to visit Florence, the sculpture below is the "Rape of the Sabine Women" by the Renaissance artist, Giambologna (the sculpture in the right background, also by Giambologna, is called "Hercules Fighting the Centaur Nessus").
In "Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009," Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, examine data on the awarding of A–F letter grades at over 200 four-year colleges and universities over the past 70 years. The findings:
Contemporary data indicate that, on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. D’s and F’s total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more A’s and B’s combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. At schools with modest selectivity, grading is as generous as it was in the mid-1980s at highly selective schools. These prestigious schools have, in turn, continued to ramp up their grades. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.The authors conclude that "A has become the most common grade on American college campuses. Without regulation, or at least strong grading guidelines, grades at American institutions of higher learning likely will continue to have less and less meaning."
Figure 1, "Distribution of grades at American colleges and universities as a function of time," gives a nice overview of what has happened:
The number of Bs, Ds, and Fs have changed a little, but are generally in the same range. The number of Cs awarded, on the other hand, dropped as dramatically as the number of As awarded rose. Many students who used to get Cs must now be getting As.
One big question is what caused this change? The article discusses various possibilities at some length and concludes, humiliatingly for us professors, that we have lowered our standards. If that is true, the question of grade inflation may be tied to the assessment regime we all now live under and mostly loathe. Lower standards would of course mean that students will learn less, and the fact that so many students are being graduated without the skills employers need is an important driver of assessment.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
In a time when there are tremendous pressures on all sides for financial efficiencies, it is uplifting to hear that the idea of liberal education is still alive here and there:
Sarah Lawrence prides itself on individualized education. Ninety percent of courses are seminars (maximum enrollment of 15), and if that's not personal enough, each seminar is built around biweekly one-on-one "conferences" at which each student in the course meets privately with the instructor to discuss progress, develop projects and so forth. Faculty members don't offer just grades, but a narrative evaluation for each student in each course.This is from a story about how Sarah Lawrence College is developing a unique approach to student learning assessment. The approach is built on the premise that “It’s impossible for standardize testing to actually evaluate the real dynamic intelligence of students." Some interesting ideas here at Insidehighered.com.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
How about this for an idea - emphasize academic quality by hiring more full time faculty and shrinking administration? That is what Iowa State University has done, apparently successfully:
After all, it turns out that focusing on academics helps student retention more than climbing walls, anyway. That’s the good news out of Iowa State University, which, according to the report by the Delta Costs Project at the American Institutes for Research, is the only—only—institution of higher learning in the entire country to spend the last eight years hiring full-time faculty and shrinking its administration. ISU President Steven Leath explained to the Des Moines Register that ISU wanted to "run a very lean operation and put as much into direct support of students and faculty” as possible....Here is the whole story in Slate.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Briana Diehl (Political Science, 2013, shown in the photo with Bill Batchelder, Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives) is now working as an LSC Fellow in the Ohio House of Representatives, where she works for the majority leadership. She says that she does all the normal office stuff, “but most importantly I do research and write columns. The columns are from the representatives’ point of view, and along with that I do talking points and other similar things. The research is either for current legislation (to understand it a little more) or for future legislation. I look at different things and see if there are any patterns that would bring about a need for legislation based off of anything from a constituent call to something the representative heard in a meeting or on the news. I am in constant contact with people from all different aspects of the state house and I truly believe that the Ashbrook program prepared me for the research and the writing that I do and, most importantly, for the common day to day networking and interactions that I have with other people around capital square. Every day is something new and I really have learned so much already, that I can’t stress enough how great this opportunity is.”
Liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows.See the story at insidehighered.com here.