THIS POST IS BY DOUG PORTMORE, NOT DAVID SOBEL.
We haven’t had a post on professional issues lately, but I hope that readers won’t mind a bit of light reading. In any case, here it goes:
Suppose that I’ve become a better teacher. Suppose, for instance, that I’ve used the same bank of test questions over the years and that, due to implementing certain non-substantive changes in my PHI X course, students taking that course from me this year are doing a better job answering those questions than students who took the same course from me in previous years. So the material that I’m trying to get the students to learn and the technique that I’ve been using for assessing whether they’ve learned it hasn’t change, but I’ve become more effective in that my current students are, on average, leaving the course with a better understanding of the material than students who took the same course from me in previous years.
The question, then, is: Should I (A) adopt higher standards with respect to what level of understanding I expect from them so as to earn certain grades or (B) keep the same standards and give higher grades on average than I had been giving in previous years?
I worry about grade inflation, so I don’t want to opt for B if it’s unjustified. But here’s my initial thinking. I should opt for A if the changes are such that I make it easier for my students to understand the material. But I should opt for B if the changes are such that I now do a better job of motivating my students to work harder and, as a result, my current students spend more time studying than students did in previous years. But what do others think? Should we all shoot for giving out roughly the same distribution of grades, or should those of us who are more effective teachers (or, at least, more effective motivators) be giving out better grades than our less effective colleagues?