Grade Expectations: Redux

Article excerpt

We surveyed undergraduate students taking upper level psychology courses about their course and grade expectations as an extension of the work of Gaultney and Cann (2001) with introductory psychology students. More students believed success in a course was measured by good grades rather than by mastery of new material. They wanted effort to play a significant role, yet realized that effort was hard to evaluate. Students reported they took courses because they were requirements for their discipline or the college, rather than because they were interesting or led to self-improvement. Survey results showed that faculty members were quite aware that students emphasized grades over mastery and new learning in their courses. This knowledge could lead to a jaded approach to teaching and learning that faculty may not have had when they began their careers.


Students' overall satisfaction with a college course may affect what they choose as a major and what occupation they choose after graduation. If students have different course expectations than their instructors do, students could be left with negative feelings at the end of the course. Feeling negative, students may then be less likely to continue in an area that they thought they had some interest and more likely to evaluate the instructor more negatively on course evaluations. A recent study on grade expectations (Gaultney & Cann, 2001) investigated introductory psychology students' motivations and goals regarding their preferences for course requirements and evaluation methods. In general, students had expectations that may not be compatible with faculty goals. In the Gaultney and Cann study, students wanted effort in the course to be weighted almost as much as mastery of material, especially if they did not get the grade they believed they deserved. At the same time they recognized that it was very difficult for the instructor to evaluate effort per se. Younger students wanted more weight placed on effort than did older students, and those who took the course for a good grade wanted more weight placed on effort in the course than did those who took the course in order to learn new material. Many more students wanted a good grade as the outcome of the course rather than to learn new material. Women wanted more, rather than fewer opportunities for evaluation and desired to have less weight on each evaluation. Women also preferred a grade distribution with a large number of higher grades, as did men who wanted a good grade, rather than learning new material, as the outcome of the course. A subset of men who reported they were more interested in learning new material rather than getting good grades, wanted a more normal distribution of grades with fewer high grades.

Some faculty give voice to academic core values that students participate in higher education for the joy of learning and to become better citizens and well-educated future professionals. Grades are secondary outcome measures that give rough estimates of student achievement frequently required by the outside world. A number of students may not hold these core values. Faculty and student discrepancies in course and grade expectations may lead to loss of students, faculty not connecting meaningfully with new students, and lowered student evaluations of college faculty teaching. However, this last point is debatable. Marsh and Roche (2000) found that high grades were actually unrelated to how students evaluated their instructors. In any event, learning experiences in students' pre-college years could foster faculty and student differences in course expectations. Landrum (1999) suggested years of grade inflation and a focus on grades in secondary and post-secondary schools as outcome measures of students' worth may have established an expectation that class attendance and effort should produce good grades. Grades per se become the most important outcome goal in courses. To complicate matters further, Wendorf (2002) found that students were relatively impervious to regular feedback they received on their coursework during a semester. …


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