Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 14:36:39 CST Subject: Grading on Bell Curve Quick further note: Had

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Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 14:36:39 CST From: Kathy Bolland Subject: Grading on Bell Curve Quick further note: Had a physics class once where the average grade on an exam was something like 32 out of 100. So 32 was a C. Don't think anyone got over half the answers right, but no one flunked. Then, having "covered" that material, we moved on. One of the weaknesses of grading on a curve is that kids who get high scores may get low grades if everyone else gets a higher score. That's not good. But it's even worse when no one understands the material and they all get passing grades anyway. What sort of silly game is this? ********* Cindy--A silly game played by people who follow what they think are the directions; not by people using the normal curve in any reasonable way. My undergraduate stat professor, by the way, refused to give Cs or Ds--he said if you did not understand the material well enough to get an A or a B, you hadn't learned enough to be worth anything (wait a minute, what you had learned wasn't worth anything to a psychologist, not you weren't). He did not grade on a curve. It's not that I "believe in" the normal curve as any sort of marvelous device for classroom assessment. But, it's taking a lot of grief because people use it because it is there, so to speak. The poor thing is just a theoretical distribution. Does one of our historians know how/why/when it began to be used by teachers to assign grades? Unfortunately, I suspect it is being used in many cases because it can be pointed to and explained, albeit poorly. People will accept it because it seems objective--it's the curve, it's not influenced by subjective variables (so they say). And people who think they can't understand math are unwilling to complain or demand explanation until they understand. Perhaps if parents and students everywhere would rise up and demand to know what grades mean, the curve would disappear as misused. To me, it's a bit like issues in an election. Politicians should explain in plain language what they mean. Voters should demand explanations (and be willing to do some self-education too). A teacher who cannot explain a grading method shouldn't use it. [No, this opinion does not stop me from using my stereo system, which I do not understand in the least. On the other hand, I wouldn't try to sell its virtues to anyone.] Kathy (KBolland@BamaEd.UA.Edu)

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