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Author Topic: Grading in Humanities Grad-Level Coursework: Does anyone get less than an A?  (Read 17016 times)
sciencegrad
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« Reply #45 on: April 22, 2012, 2:04:58 PM »

Maybe at your school. In my mathematically based grad programs (at two schools), exam scores were almost always bimodal with a chunk of the class getting in the high 80s or 90s (the ones that got it) and another chunk of the class getting in the low 70s or below (the ones who didn't get it) but not many people in the middle range. The first group usually ended up with an A or an A- for the class. You didn't want to be in the second group, although many of them were awarded Bs unless they didn't make any effort (like doing assignments).

Yes, yes, yes, I am getting so tired of the normal distribution model, especially the idea that you have to recurve a bimodal distribution to become a normal one.

The normal distribution is a very bad model for understanding-based courses.

If you time people's running, you might get (part of) a normal distribution, if you time babies running or beginners skiing, you won't, because some will just not be able to do it. If you teach students new things, there is not always a continuum from knowing nothing to mastery.

I can see the problem with actually recurving any distribution to get a specific type.  I was just talking about how the grades occurred without a curve, though.
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scampster
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« Reply #46 on: April 23, 2012, 7:59:27 AM »

Maybe at your school. In my mathematically based grad programs (at two schools), exam scores were almost always bimodal with a chunk of the class getting in the high 80s or 90s (the ones that got it) and another chunk of the class getting in the low 70s or below (the ones who didn't get it) but not many people in the middle range. The first group usually ended up with an A or an A- for the class. You didn't want to be in the second group, although many of them were awarded Bs unless they didn't make any effort (like doing assignments).

Yes, yes, yes, I am getting so tired of the normal distribution model, especially the idea that you have to recurve a bimodal distribution to become a normal one.

The normal distribution is a very bad model for understanding-based courses.

If you time people's running, you might get (part of) a normal distribution, if you time babies running or beginners skiing, you won't, because some will just not be able to do it. If you teach students new things, there is not always a continuum from knowing nothing to mastery.

I can see the problem with actually recurving any distribution to get a specific type.  I was just talking about how the grades occurred without a curve, though.

I think we are disagreeing that the grades usually occur as a rough normal distribution without a curve. That hasn't been my experience as a grad student. But our experiences are equally valid, so I'm not sure what we'd see if someone did a survey amongst a large number of mathematically based grad programs.
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shamu
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« Reply #47 on: April 23, 2012, 8:02:22 AM »

I think grade inflation in grad school is worse than in undergraduate programs. In my experience at different RU-VH and RU-H schools in the US, an "A" means the student can follow directions and go through the motions with some intelligence. The occasional "B" may sneak in and be tolerated, but anything below a "B" is either the sign of slacking off or a mistake in the admission process.
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mouseman
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« Reply #48 on: April 23, 2012, 8:48:20 AM »

On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that each incoming class here consists of four of the best candidates out of about 300 applicants. It's not surprising that the majority of grades would be in the A-range: these are, after all, extremely strong students. I would expect more variation in grades from larger programs.

This.  Graduate students are those who have a passion for the subject and are good at it.  In a graduate class, especially for PhD students, you have students who are all smart, hard workers, do well in the field, and love the topic.  How is it then surprising that they mostly get A's? 

I can see this being the case for courses that assign written assignments primarily.  In more mathematical courses, the results of exams tend to still follow a normal distribution.  Although I suppose most of these students could still be given an A.

Maybe at your school. In my mathematically based grad programs (at two schools), exam scores were almost always bimodal with a chunk of the class getting in the high 80s or 90s (the ones that got it) and another chunk of the class getting in the low 70s or below (the ones who didn't get it) but not many people in the middle range. The first group usually ended up with an A or an A- for the class. You didn't want to be in the second group, although many of them were awarded Bs unless they didn't make any effort (like doing assignments).

Were these PhD students?  In some engineering programs the Master's students outnumber the PhD students, and they tend to have a wider grade spread.  I also think that there may be a difference between fields because of age.  In my experience, students who start grad school later in life are more likely to have better grades, so fields in which the age of grad students is relatively high, A's will be the most common grade.
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He had softly and suddenly vanished away -- -
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scampster
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« Reply #49 on: April 23, 2012, 8:54:17 AM »

On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that each incoming class here consists of four of the best candidates out of about 300 applicants. It's not surprising that the majority of grades would be in the A-range: these are, after all, extremely strong students. I would expect more variation in grades from larger programs.

This.  Graduate students are those who have a passion for the subject and are good at it.  In a graduate class, especially for PhD students, you have students who are all smart, hard workers, do well in the field, and love the topic.  How is it then surprising that they mostly get A's? 

I can see this being the case for courses that assign written assignments primarily.  In more mathematical courses, the results of exams tend to still follow a normal distribution.  Although I suppose most of these students could still be given an A.

Maybe at your school. In my mathematically based grad programs (at two schools), exam scores were almost always bimodal with a chunk of the class getting in the high 80s or 90s (the ones that got it) and another chunk of the class getting in the low 70s or below (the ones who didn't get it) but not many people in the middle range. The first group usually ended up with an A or an A- for the class. You didn't want to be in the second group, although many of them were awarded Bs unless they didn't make any effort (like doing assignments).

Were these PhD students?  In some engineering programs the Master's students outnumber the PhD students, and they tend to have a wider grade spread.  I also think that there may be a difference between fields because of age.  In my experience, students who start grad school later in life are more likely to have better grades, so fields in which the age of grad students is relatively high, A's will be the most common grade.

We were a pretty even mix of masters and PhD students, but who would do better wasn't necessarily correlated with how far along they were. I'm sure there are definitely differences in fields. But even in your experience, it seems that the distribution is still not normal, even if it is a different distribution than in my classes!
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mouseman
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« Reply #50 on: April 23, 2012, 9:10:09 AM »

On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that each incoming class here consists of four of the best candidates out of about 300 applicants. It's not surprising that the majority of grades would be in the A-range: these are, after all, extremely strong students. I would expect more variation in grades from larger programs.

This.  Graduate students are those who have a passion for the subject and are good at it.  In a graduate class, especially for PhD students, you have students who are all smart, hard workers, do well in the field, and love the topic.  How is it then surprising that they mostly get A's? 

I can see this being the case for courses that assign written assignments primarily.  In more mathematical courses, the results of exams tend to still follow a normal distribution.  Although I suppose most of these students could still be given an A.

Maybe at your school. In my mathematically based grad programs (at two schools), exam scores were almost always bimodal with a chunk of the class getting in the high 80s or 90s (the ones that got it) and another chunk of the class getting in the low 70s or below (the ones who didn't get it) but not many people in the middle range. The first group usually ended up with an A or an A- for the class. You didn't want to be in the second group, although many of them were awarded Bs unless they didn't make any effort (like doing assignments).

Were these PhD students?  In some engineering programs the Master's students outnumber the PhD students, and they tend to have a wider grade spread.  I also think that there may be a difference between fields because of age.  In my experience, students who start grad school later in life are more likely to have better grades, so fields in which the age of grad students is relatively high, A's will be the most common grade.

We were a pretty even mix of masters and PhD students, but who would do better wasn't necessarily correlated with how far along they were. I'm sure there are definitely differences in fields. But even in your experience, it seems that the distribution is still not normal, even if it is a different distribution than in my classes!

You're absolutely right.  Even in very large undergrad classes, I've almost never seen a normal distribution.  Those classes mostly have numerical distributions which are strongly left skewed.  The only class where I've seen an almost normal distribution was my PhD adviser's introductory ecology course, which was difficult enough that the mean numerical grade was about 50% of the total possible points.
Of course, in smaller courses (as is usually the case in grad courses), you can expect any shape of distribution.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2012, 9:13:38 AM by mouseman » Logged

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away -- -
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
                                                  Lewis Carroll
westcoastgirl
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« Reply #51 on: April 30, 2012, 10:45:27 AM »

It's class dependent here. Some professors take grades seriously and a B means a B. There are classes, though, where an A- is really a B- and so forth.
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betty_p
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« Reply #52 on: April 30, 2012, 8:50:30 PM »

My grad program was the same as most of the others written about here: A was satisfactory, A- was a raised eyebrow, and B-range was deep concern.

I didn't consider it "grade inflation" because at the graduate level it's not about gradations of mastery. Either the student has mastered the material or not.

All grad courses should be graded pass/fail, in my opinion as a humanities Ph.D.

(I tried really hard not to make this post sound pompous, but I failed. I give me a B.)
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But I'm not bitter.
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