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Are grading curves fair?

Our student panel weighs in


 

At the centre of the dispute between math professor Mikhail Kovalyov and the University of Alberta is the question of grading curves. Kovalyov’s course average was lowered by department administrators supposedly because he had awarded too many Bs compared to Cs and Ds, touching off a battle that ultimately resulted in the administration asking him to resign.

The case is unique because Kovalyov actively encouraged his students to appeal their grades. It also highlights the fact that how students are assessed can be controversial.

Achieving target class averages often involves employing a mathematical grading curve to ensure that in each class their are the predetermined number of As, Cs, and Fs awarded. Results can be confusing. If an overwhelming number of students score well on an exam, even those with a mark in the high 80s could see their final grade curved down to a B. Similarly, if a disproportionate number of students score very low, a pass for the exam could be set at 35 per cent.

We asked our student panel whether they thought grading curves are fair. Answers are posted below, as well as on our front page. As with previous weeks, all videos are archived on our You Tube Channel.


 

Are grading curves fair?

  1. I think that grading curves are fair. Being a second year university student and a graduate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, I think that grade curves offer opportunities to students.
    On a tough final where everyone does fairly bad, it is not fair to pass, for example, three quarters of a class. If that many students fail, it is a good indication that the test was abnormally hard and that students should be given a break, and grades should be adjusted accordingly.
    Likewise, if an abnormal amount of students do well, it is a good indication that the test was too easy and grades should be adjusted. Some may support the first option but dislike that their mark goes down in the second- but it’s a fact that professors cannot get a test right every time and both they and the students should be given an opportunity to show what they are capable of.
    The IB Program, a world-renowned and respected program, operates in this way, using the same method of grading all over the world. Your marks are given with respect to every other IB student in the world. If you got a 40% on your Higher Level physics exam, some see that as a fail. But the IB program and many universities can see it as a pass if most people achieved a similar mark. I think this is a fair way of marking.

  2. Emily, you have a point there and I’m sure it works fairly well within the IB Program. However, in a world where you’re not just competing with students in your own class, but students from other classes and other universities for a higher GPA, grading curves are not fair. Since each class at each university will be different based on the students, materials covered, and the profs, the grading curve will not be consistent everywhere. The same student who gets a 60% at one university may get a 70% in another. Assessing students based on their own capability is the fairest way to give out marks. As to the tests being unusually hard or unusually easy, that should be the professors’ responsibity to get right and not the students. That said, professors have gone to school themselves and likely taught for many years. They should have and idea of how to write a test with a decent level of difficulty.

  3. @ emily
    I too was a graduate of the IB program. Advertising was a gross misrepresentation of what the program was, regardles:

    “On a tough final where everyone does fairly bad, it is not fair to pass, for example, three quarters of a class. If that many students fail, it is a good indication that the test was abnormally hard and that students should be given a break, and grades should be adjusted accordingly.”
    This means that the top percents suffer lower grades…you do realize this, correct? by adjusting scores it fudges the numbers for a lot of students and causes problems in their chosen fields. I am an FASS major and am planning to switch out simply because of the curving. As for those students who found a test “abnormally hard”, they should just study harder next time. If one is taking a class with a prof they don’t know the best solution is to ask many questions, read practice exams, check exam banks, etc.

    “Likewise, if an abnormal amount of students do well, it is a good indication that the test was too easy and grades should be adjusted. Some may support the first option but dislike that their mark goes down in the second- but it’s a fact that professors cannot get a test right every time and both they and the students should be given an opportunity to show what they are capable of.”
    So…marks should be adjusted because of a teacher’s writing style? that does not make much sense.

    “The IB Program, a world-renowned and respected program,”
    World renowned and respected by some, utterly panned and despised by others, including many, many former IB students.

    “If you got a 40% on your Higher Level physics exam, some see that as a fail. But the IB program and many universities can see it as a pass if most people achieved a similar mark. I think this is a fair way of marking.”
    The way you put it, yes it would be fair…for the people failing. Those who were not failing would not benefit. Think about it. If most people got 80+, and some people got 70s, it would be those who got 70 who would end up doing bad.

  4. The problem with curving grades is that while in the general university population the grades will approach a curve, the number of students in a single class is not large enough to accurately reflect the distribution of abilities the university is presumably trying to reflect in the grades. This is a particular problem with smaller classes. If you have 25 people in the class, you may have a group that happens to cluster at one end or the other of the bell curve. This is less likely to happen with IB, because of the larger sample size involved.

  5. they just want to sabotage this Professor.with all this too much blahblahblah.they just want them to kick him out because the chairs their and high ranking officials don’t like him.why would a professor did that?when he knew the rules?he just simply working and following the rules.there’s someone really did that to sabotage him.the chairs their and the heads only their brain is using them but they’re not using their brain,because how will it really ends up like that .if there’s nothing really happening inside the offices of their high ranks staffs area ..there something wrong happening their and they just want them to kicked him out.they have no right to kick out a faculty member with just as easy as that.i think they already planned this.people who did this just want to inflict pain with other people because they have so much pain inside them especially, jealousy and envy.there is really something wrong with their inner state condition of those high ranks staffs there,for sure..

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