From the New York Times:
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.
“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”
He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.
“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”
A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.
James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ “
In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.
Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.
“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”
“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”
What else is there really than the effort you put in? Well… you know, there’s the finished product. The one thing that I, the educator, actually see? But that’s inconsequential, right?
Here’s the bad news – I originally wrote a pretty detailed response to this article, including both my outraged reaction as an adjunct who has experienced this sort of behavior, and a more thoughtful response on how race and gender play into student entitlement. But I found I couldn’t write it without divulging details about past jobs. So no commentary for you!
Instead, here’s an education-themed tab dump (it’s been a fertile week at NYT):
The humanities continue to have to justify their existence to college administrators. The best justification, in my opinion: the humanities explore what it means to be a human being. It’s true that you don’t need to go to college to do that, but college would be a pretty barren place without it.
18 students have been suspended from NYU following a sit-in. The students were demanding, among other things, an annual reporting of the university’s operating budget and the right of TAs to organize. Oh, the horror.
Speaking of university labor and operating budgets, coaches, star faculty members, and administrators can make millions of dollars a year while adjuncts and TAs – you know, the people doing the actual teaching? – subsist on salaries as low as $4,000. (That last part’s not in the article – it’s the salary I received my first year as a TA, after tuition was deducted.)
(Cross-posted at Modern Mitzvot.)
But when people look at your transcript and see a C, are they going to think you tried hard but just aren’t good at that subject, or are they going to think you slacked off? That is what gives me some sympathy for these entitled students (not so much the ones who say “But I read the whole book,” but the ones who put a lot of effort into their assignments and yet didn’t produce outstanding results), and perhaps a good argument for written evaluations over letter grades (I went to a college that worked like that; the downside is that no matter how well you do, they have to find something negative to put in there to make it sound balanced/give you a goal to work toward/whatever, so you can’t really ever “win” unless perhaps you are the embodiment of superhuman perfection in every way).
This is also why in grade school I always preferred more concrete subjects, like math. In order to get a high grade, you have to get x% of the problems right and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
I think the worry about one bad grade on a transcript is overblown. People tend to look at transcripts as a whole and are perfectly capable of dismissing one out-of-line grade as exceptional. It has a small effect on the GPA, but even that isn’t great. From time to time, I check after a student has told me that he or she never received such a low grade before. It’s very rarely true.
That said, I think treating C as the default grade is nasty. Every place I’ve taught the average grade has been somewhere in the B range. Grades take on meaning in relation to all the other grades a student receives. Intentionally assigning lower-than-average grades penalizes one’s own students, though as I say, in a somewhat limited way. It’s egotism masquerading as high standards.
Your concerns as a contingent worker in academia are real. Welcome to the new faculty majority!
My first reaction was a bit different. Once upon a time I taught “part-time” at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania (for $1500 a course before I had my PhD, and for $1725 a course afterward – less than $14,000 a year for a full-time-plus eight-course load). One day I had a conversation with my chair about the truly terrible scores my students had on their first exam of the semester. He shared his grading philosophy. Our students, he said, are mainly working-class, mainly first-generation college students. Their life prospects will be greatly affected by their collegiate success, including their grade-point average. He therefore couldn’t bear to flunk anyone, no matter their performance in his classes.
So now, when I read news of the terrible effect of grade inflation, I have to ask myself what motivates the concern, and how class, gender, ethnicity, and other identifications affect both grades and life prospects. Grades end up being yet another largely arbitrary way to sort people.
Those first few paragraphs describe my experience as an English TA to a T.
In defense of C as average: for a writing-intensive class, I think it is utterly necessary to distinguish work that meets writing requirements from work that engages content critically. Suppose a student writes a paper on a book s/he’s read: the paper asks the student to analyze the argument of the book and research some outside articles to defend or critique the book’s argument. So this student reads the book, takes the notes, does the research, and produces a seven-page paper with six sources in which s/he summarizes the book, quoting several other outside sources and noting whether the other authors agree or disagree with the book. That meets all the requirements. And the student has done work, and learned and recorded a lot of information. But the paper doesn’t evince analysis to any meritable degree: there’s no consideration of the implications of the book’s argument, no complication of that argument (other aspects are relagated to “agree” or “disagree”), no discussion of meanings – the paper stops short mostly at summary and comparison.
That’s average work. Although I suppose it’s technically not “meeting the standard requirements”, since critical thinking was specified in the assignment – but in the program where I taught, the difference between a C and a B was sustained analysis. I can’t think of any educational benefit to awarding summaries a “good” grade.
Seems to me that this sense of entitlement, of which I have to disabuse my students every semester that I teach, comes in part from the notion that students are, somehow, customers in the classroom and that teachers are, on some level, customer service representatives. The outgoing president of the college where I teach was very fond of using the first half of this metaphor to describe what our commitment to our students ought to be–and I am willing to grant some small validity to it to the degree that it applies to notions like teacher preparedness, being on time, handing work back on time, etc.–but he always talked about it in terms of our responsibility to find new, innovative ways to engage them in learning, to help them pass. I am all for finding ways to engage my students in learning so they can pass, but if they are my customers, what does that say about their responsibility to me; and if I am a customer service representative, then what does that say about the nature of teaching? Of my own education, the non-teaching work that I do to inform my teaching? To the degree that students understand themselves to be purchasing a service that is, essentially, in its economics, if not in its content, no different from any other service, then it makes sense that they should have the sense of entitlement which results in the, “But I tried really, really, really hard and that should mean a higher grade than you have given me.” No one, not students, not administrators, and not a lot of teachers are comfortable confronting students with the idea that–assuming they are telling the truth about the nature of their effort (and in my experience most are not)–if the D work they have handed me truly represents their best effort that in itself might be a problem they need to address. (I do not mean that all students should or would be getting A’s if they only put in the right kind of effort; I mean that if a student has put in as much effort as he or she claims and has not even produced a paper that satisfies the minimum requirements for a transferable grade in the course, then there is a problem somewhere.)
I’d say that the summary may not be such a bad thing in some instances. Call it a review article with annotated bibliography, if you will. In archaeology of a particular region and period, a summary of known sites and materials, and methodology used in dating and typing said site level materials, and an index of the various interpretations of materials, with some comment about apparent contradicting interpretations and their strengths and weaknesses, might be a perfectly reasonable assignment for an undergraduate. This would be “A” work, if the student also includes some comment about additional methodology that might be used to resolve contradictions, questions that have been overlooked by the existing reseachers, if gaps in existing evidence preclude definitive conclusion at this time, etc.
expect a B just for attending lectures?? Wow.
I had one (engineering) professor who would take into account if you showed up to his classes or not if you were struggling in his class and came to him for extra help, but attendance has never been a gimme grade in the classes I had (there was the one class where points would be deducting from your final grade if you missed so many lectures but your final grade was still dependent on performance).
I don’t know, maybe that entitlement just suprises me because I had the kind of parents who told me I wouldn’t make it to college because I got a B in 7th grade English. Lucky me.
You name a couple of the things the NYU students were demanding. You skipped that they were demanding thirteen scholarships for Palestinian students, that the university donate “all excess supplies and materials” to rebuild the University of Gaza and that they get to determine tuition until 2012.
Not exactly the business NYU wants to be in.
The attitude comes from the public school level. Talk to a teacher sometime and you’ll realize that there is no pressure on them to give students a realistic assessment of their abilities, and a nightmarish horde of sources of pressure to do the exact opposite.
No teacher will ever get fired for marking to easily, while marking too hard will bring parents, administrators, and students screaming bloody murder.
And what’s the best way to determine how hard to mark? Student effort. The keener will expect to be compensated for busting their ass, and will kick up a storm if they don’t. The slacker doesn’t really give a damn either way.
Which is not to say that there aren’t school teachers that have expectations of quality from their students – but those teachers are putting themselves up onto that cross, all the forces surrounding them push them away from that approach.
So is it shocking that students expect the world to keep going that way after they graduate and get into an undergraduate program?
That being said, I’m happy I was in engineering, where things are pretty black-and-white. I don’t envy any arts TAs trying to defend their marking positions.
I think Yusifu has a point that grades take on meaning in relation to the general practices of an institution. But without taking a firm position on whether C or B should be the “average” grade, I think this attitude of the student as a customer who is basically owed a grade because of the money he or she paid is pretty widespread.
My mother is a college professor – geology and environmental sciences. She doesn’t give out As for effort, and she doesn’t grade on a curve, either. But she does mostly open-book tests, and she offers three or four opportunities for extra credit throughout the semester for students who are struggling or flubbed an assignment. And inevitably at the end of the semester, she has some student in her office (or, shockingly to me, some student’s parents on the phone) yelling about his grade or pleading for some do-over. These inevitably are students who missed half the classes and didn’t do any of the extra credit assignments along the way and often students whose parents are alumni who donate to the school.
I also think for too many upper class and even middle class kids, college has become just the next thing you do after high school, without even thinking about why they want to go. I went right out of high school and was fine, but my brother took a very round-about way into college – and he was a much, much better student for it. If he had been pushed into going right away, he would have made himself and his teachers miserable, and it would have been a waste of time and money.
Ha, I was engineering too and while 95% of the time it was as black-and-white as you say I remember 2 counter examples from my own undergrad:
1) the Art History TA who would mark off on essays if you didn’t x, y, and z that the professor mentione, in the words he mentioned them in. Critical thinking didn’t matter. (not engineering, this is more in relation to the art TA comment)
2) In my senior design class we had an English TA who graded the english and grammer of our reports. He had arbitrary rules of what was considered good and bad grammer and didn’t understand that sometimes the correct grammer doesn’t look right when you’re dealing with some engineering terms and acronyms. He also let personal opinions of the students influence his grading. Not kidding, students complained about it every semester.
My only experience with grading at the collegiate or graduate level was when I was TA for a mandatory journalism school course on media law; it was my job to discuss the material with students after the lecture ended, and to write and grade the final exam (which was pass/fail). The dean warned me at the beginning of the semester that some students failed every year, and he was right — even though I gave the students an outline to use for answering the questions on the exam.
A few of the students who failed, and who claimed that they had attended every lecture and had done the reading, were telling the truth. Some people’s brains just have a very difficult time adapting to “thinking like a lawyer,” in the sense of being able to adapt case precedents to a new situation. But I don’t know of another way to test understanding of law other than teaching the important precedents and then asking the students to apply them to a hypothetical situation. It’s how every exam in law school goes, and it honestly seems like a worthwhile skill for them to have as journalists. I’m sure there’s some form of “thinking like a journalist” that I would have hated to have thrust upon me when I hadn’t chosen to attend J-school.
There is a reasonable dispute whether college is intended to be a learning experience (as the faculty wishes it were) and/or or whether it is intended to provide a basis for a future career and success (which is why most students go.) Only those in the fabled ivory tower, or those who have other avenues to success, can ignore this: A grade can actually have a fairly significant effect on your future career and your earnings, which by the nature of the way that the world works will follow you the rest of your life.
The job of a college is twofold: to deliver to the students some form of education, and to get them what they hope to achieve from a college degree. It makes no sense to ignore the latter. (Incidentally, as an interesting aside, teachers have been known to deliberately increase their students’ grades to help them get draft deferment. This DOES have historical precedent.)
Grades have value, which in certain respects can easily be equated to monetary value. A professor who enforces a lower grading average for their class is denying the class their opportunity to earn value, at least w/r/t other students.
I have had this conversation before. It is…interesting, to say the least, when putatively liberal professors choose to ignore the grand social scheme in which their grades are given and received. Everyone agrees with the general rule and think they’re an exception ;)
Well, I guess it all depends on what you perceive the purpose of grading itself to be. If the purpose of a grade is to give others a sense of your probable future performance, then does it really matter whether you underperform because you’re a slacker or just because you’re not terribly quick on the uptake?
I mean, hard work is very admirable, and all that, but if you’re simply sadly deficient in the sort of thinking required for a particular field of study, then why shouldn’t your grades reflect that?
That said, I admit that I was totally outraged when I got a D in my high school calligraphy class. A D! I’d never even seen a D before! It brought down my entire GPA! For an art class, no less! An elective that I took just for fun, and also because I thought that I should maybe try to be more…oh you know. Well-rounded. And I worked really, really hard at it! I did!
But looking back on it now, I have to admit that the grade did reflect my actual performance — as well as my most probable future performance at any art-related task. I really am hopelessly inept at arts and crafts. And no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be even a half-way competent calligrapher.
What about this: a professor who declares “everyone has won and all must have prizes” and gives everyone an “A for effort” regardless of the quality of the work produced is denying those students with actual SKILL the value of their work plus their abilities. The horror of the Harrison Bergeron scenario is that those who are exceptional are actively discouraged from demonstrating it, and all are reduced to the indistinguishable middle.
I encounter this “I tried so I should get a good grade” attitude constantly. I hand out grading rubrics at the start of each quarter, one each for written work, presentations, and class participation. It clearly outlines to students the various components I’m looking for in each type of assignment, and what A, B, and C work looks like. The result? I get complaints on course evaluations that “you can’t get an A unless you’re perfect.” Which is of course far from the case, but the outrage expressed there is exactly the problem: Yes. To get the highest grade, you must do the highest-quality work. And clearly describing what that is only seems to make some students MORE upset, rather than making it clear to them “here is how you get the grade you want.”
(The other most common scenario I encounter is when I say “X points out of your total grade come from class participation; here is the rubric that describes what participation looks like” and then a student who has not raised their hand to comment ONCE in eleven weeks takes exception to losing participation points. If I understood that one, I’d be a lot less frustrated when it came to grading and course eval time.)
I think that this was more to the point as to why they were suspended:
Had they found a way to register their protest without damaging property, etc., the suspensions likely wouldn’t have happened.
A few days ago, one of my calculus students asked me in class, “What should we do if we try really really hard on a problem and we still get the wrong answer?” I answered that he should try again, or try doing it a different way, or ask a friend, or email me, or come in to my office hours. He didn’t seem to like that answer.
My favorite student question ever, though, was “What should we do if we’re getting a C and don’t feel like we’re a C student?” It took every ounce of self-control I possess to not answer, “Adjust your self-perception.” (It was nearly the end of the semester. There was one homework assignment and the final left, and this student had been getting Cs on every assignment, quiz, and midterm.)
“But I found I couldn’t write it without divulging details about past jobs. ”
*cough* Could you email it to those of us who are curious and already know some?
I had a student who tried to bribe me, and when I finally told him, “No, these are the circumstances under which you will get a B-; otherwise, your grade will be lower; the ship of As has sailed,” he screamed at me that I was the most difficult person he’d ever had to deal with. Apparently, everyone else was tractable to bribes.
My high school senior year English teacher, who also is a family friend, would let me hang out in his classroom in off-hours. He had a larger classroom than most, and there was a bookshelf that split the room between the “classroom” space with the teacher’s desk facing the student desks, and the sort of private space where he kept a microwave and mini-fridge. I’d sit behind the bookshelf and read peacefully. One day early in the fall, while the teacher was at his desk, a couple of his students came in. One was the quarterback on our football team and the other was a friend of the quarterback. They tried to convince the teacher that he should just pass the QB (Texas’s no-pass, no-play rules in effect), even if the QB wasn’t earning passing grades, because it was wrong to deprive the QB of the opportunity to earn a college scholarship.
I was really horrified at the time (and the teacher was EXTREMELY pissed off, although he did end up making me tutor the QB, who probably would have learned a lot more if we hadn’t had tutoring sessions in the hallway where every girl on her way to the ladies’ room had to stop to talk to him), but reading about these students who believe they’ve earned the grade when they haven’t makes me kind of appreciate those guys in retrospect. At least they weren’t so deluded that they thought the QB’s efforts on the field made him an A-student; they recognized that he was asking for a special favor (and just believed that because he was a football star, he should get it.).
Theoretically, yes, of course. But not weighting grades for effort could cause unfairness if grades are taken in ways they weren’t intended. If they’re assuming your grades reflect how hard-working you are more than your inherent ability for the subject (I do see this attitude), it could be a problem, because people always say they want employees who will give their all in any area, including areas they aren’t actually any good at. Depending on who is judging, even one bad grade could be taken as a sign that you will throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty. Although perhaps that is an extreme scenario.
It’s not like employers are interested in honesty anyway, as you are expected to exaggerate how awesome you are on your resume. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have the talent or skills to apply for a job that requires actual talent or skills.
I’m getting bogged down in the details of the problem of giving low grades here, but I do appreciate the opposite problem as well. Students who did a good job should get a good grade, but students who did a truly outstanding and marvelous job should get a better grade. Perhaps A’s have become too cheap–you get the same A+ on an easy quiz as you do on something that was really a great accomplishment. Veering into speculative fantasy now: Maybe they should have a grading scale that goes higher for more involved projects, so you could get 100% on an easy quiz and not have that given the same label as the top grade in a more involved project that takes a lot of effort. It would be like if the highest grade you could get on small assignments was a C, but C was actually not bad, or if there were grades higher than A but only sometimes.
This is, and is not, true. In certain professions, absolutely. In others….studies have been done–wish I could find the info–which show that income level a given number of years out of college does not necessarily correlate with either the grades one received or whether one went to, say, an elite or a state institution.
I also wonder what you mean by a professor who enforces a “lower” grading average (and I am sorry if didn’t get the quote right). Lower than what? In relation to what?
One could argue that, precisely because college grades have some monetary value, that a rigorous grading system–not unfair, but rigorous–is how you make sure that the people who pay for college are getting their money’s worth.
Edited to add:
I’d like to know more about what you mean when you say this is part of the job of a college.
I’m curious how often – after college – people are asked to provide transcripts or even their undergrad GPA to potential employers. I know it will matter when you’re transferring from a CC to a four-year institution or when applying to grad school. I’m sure it matters if you go into academics
And I understand that students who play sports and especially those on scholarships will worry more about it than others.
But for the non-academics (that is, most of us), how much is one or two bad grades going to affect us?
I ask because I work in a field where no one cares about your grades and even right out of school, it’s work samples that make or break you. While I never liked to get a bad grade because I’ve always been a good student, it’s very hard for me to understand this idea that one or two professors who grade more harshly are going to set a student back for life.
How real is this concern for students? Are those who complain mostly those in the categories I mentioned above? Or are they mostly students who were A students in high school who have difficulty adjusting to a more rigorous standard?
You have two English 101 classes.
In one class, the teacher gives a wide range of grades, but believes in a ‘high standard’ of writing. As it happens, she always considers her students not to have such a standard, so she ends up with a C average.
In another class, the teacher gives a narrow range of grades, and a B average.
Depending on which class you get–and this is a matter of luck–if you get the second teacher you will on average tend to get a grade a full point higher when you finish the class.
Once you’re out of that class, of course, it doesn’t matter why you got the grade you did. Your GPA and class rank don’t have an exception for “hard teacher.” So there is a relative disparity between the two classes, which stems from the difference in teaching styles and is unrelated to the quality of students in each particular class.
Low Teacher’s students are getting hosed. High Teacher’s students are getting benefits they didn’t earn. Both results are bad.
But what if the kids who get the first teacher learn more about what constitutes good writing? What if they don’t quite get it in time to pull off an A in her class, but they learn lessons they take with them for the rest of their careers? Did they still get hosed?
But not weighting grades for effort could cause unfairness if grades are taken in ways they weren’t intended. If they’re assuming your grades reflect how hard-working you are more than your inherent ability for the subject (I do see this attitude), it could be a problem, because people always say they want employees who will give their all in any area, including areas they aren’t actually any good at.
PG, this requires the instructor to figure out how the people reading the student’s transcripts interpret grades and adjust his grading criteria accordingly. I don’t think that’s possible to do accurately. I have to say that I don’t believe in an “A for effort”.
It cuts the other way as well. My son once turned in a project for a history class. He had all the material on the poster board, and it was accurate and readable. He received a lower grade than I thought was justified. He said that his teacher marked him down because he didn’t have a lot of fancy graphics, etc. My response was, “WTF? What is this, an art class?” If it was a course in graphics design I could see it, but the teacher apparently was grading a history project on something other than history. Why should other kids get a higher grade if they put a lot of effort in that had nothing to do with learning and exhibiting mastery of history?
That was meerkat, not me. I’m all in favor of establishing a particular grade as the average, so long as that is uniform across the school (e.g. at my college it was more difficult to get an A in the engineering school than in most liberal arts & sciences classes, but employers knew this and it was consistent within each department — there wasn’t one “easy A” E-school prof messing things up).
Oh Ron. You just gave me flashbacks to fifth grade and the D I got on my diorama of a Seminole village. It absolutely was ugly as sin – I am one of the least crafty people I’ve ever known – but I painstakingly balanced that little toothpick platform on top of the little toothpick stilts. I worked hard on that thing! My parents didn’t help me at all! And how could I get a D when the kid who photocopied pictures of Indians from a book and stood them up on cardboard cut-outs got a B? The injustice!
Meerkat, this is usually accomplished with point values – easy quizzes may only be worth 10 points, say, while a more involved project might be worth 50. So the overall grade is weighted properly, and the students get the assignment back and (hopefully) think, “I got an A on it, but it was only a ten-point paper.”
Sorry about that, PG.
Yeah, I’m damn glad that both my kids got/are getting engineering degrees. What you learn there is that it doesn’t matter if the ore was mined in an ecological-friendly fashion or that affirmative action ensured that various ethnic groups were proportionately hired in higher-paying jobs on the project – if you don’t design the bridge right and use the right steel, it’s going to fall down. There are, in fact, right and wrong answers, and it doesn’t matter one bit how hard you did or did not work to get them. Everything is not relative and different systems are not equal; there are absolute truths in the world.
chingona, I absolutely sucked at anything that required a modicum of artistic ability (outside of music) or fine motor control. Anything that required drawing, sculpting, etc. was hopeless for me. I did do a great poster for 7th grade science on the different kinds of crystals – body centered cubic, face centered cubic, hexagonal, etc. – but that was all ruler and protractor work.
I still have the ashtray I made in 5th grade. Think “hockey puck” with a small depression in the middle and a spiral of black glaze on a white background and a blue dot in the middle. That’s it for me. If I’d have had to build a diorama it would have been a lost cause.
I have quite a lot of sympathy for the views here, but I think people might benefit from reading Carol Dweck (I read this, but other books might be more directly applicable). There are really good reasons for judging (which may be different from evaluating) people based on effort (adaptable) rather than some (fixed) notion of talent, aptitude, or intelligence. Even brilliant people flounder when they hold rigid notions of talent as innate. In the long run, a focus on effort leads to much better results – and, frankly, happier kids. Now, I’m sure everyone here is patient enough to explain to students putting forth great effort that they might need to try different strategies to make their efforts more productive (adaptable solution) rather than hinting that they’re simply less than brilliant (inalterable, internal, why bother). But the students may have had many lesser teachers, from preschool even, incapable of encouraging students in such a nuanced way.
First, grades are not judgments of people, they are, or should be, evaluations of work. I know that a lot of people don’t see it that way, and I know that the ways in which grades are treated often confuse the two, and I know that teachers–and entire schools, not to mention systems of hierarchy (class, race, etc.)–can use grades as a way of punishing or rewarding people as people, labeling them as good or bad, etc., but the fact that grades are often misused is not a reason to dilute what they are. Even grading people based on effort is, ultimately, an evaluation of/judgment about their effort, not of them as people.
I also want to point out that there are ways of including effort in a student’s grade that do not dilute the rigorous evaluation of the classroom product they produce. So, for example, there is a potential difference between, in my classes, the grade a student might get on their papers and the grade they end up with for the class, to the degree that the final grade includes an evaluation of them as students (class participation, growth over the course of a semester, etc.); and there are ways of taking effort into account when one grades revisions of work; and so on.
Yes, Richard. Grades aren’t an evaluation of the person’s worth. I really shouldn’t have used the words I did. But there are a variety of ways people understand a bad grade.
One way is that it’s a measure of talent or intelligence. The problem with that is that it’s fixed and unchangeable, so people who get bad grades and understand them strongly in that way don’t expect to be able to do anything about it. They generally aren’t very tolerant to minor failures, whichy are understood as proving their limits. A lot of people who grew up hearing praise of the sort –Wow, what a great job! You’re so smart!– adopt that kind of view. (This explains a lot of classic underachievers, but also some other things like the drop off in girls’ performance in math in about grade seven.) As researchers in psychology and education figured this out, there was a big movement to praise effort over smarts.
There were a lot of problems with the new approach needing to be fine tuned, but all in all, this is much better than before. It happens the current crop of college students probably grew up while this style of education was dominant but before educators and parents had a good understanding of how to apply it. So when a student says that they tried really hard and put in a lot of effort in (if they’re not lying, which as someone noted above is often the case), there’s a lot behind that. In the ways they’ve been praised for their efforts –Wow, what a great job! You must have worked really hard on that!– they’ve been taught to relate results to effort and effort to self-worth. So a student might be genuinely confused as to how their best efforts might not be worth the best grades. I don’t think it deserves to be labelled as a sense of entitlement.
So this second approach is much better, but needs some nuance. Effort has to be effectively channeled in a productive way – but it isn’t necessarily easy for people to understand what they means for how they praise their children. I recommended Dweck because her work has had a lot to do with these shifts in early teaching and developmental understanding. By the time kids get to college, their style might be relatively fixed, but understanding it might help you to offer more constructive responses.