Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Making the Grade in Real Life

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Making the Grade in Real Life

Article excerpt

EVERY teacher faces a daily dilemma: Should a student be challenged - or encouraged? Which works better in the learning process, a stern "You can do better" or a gentle pat on the head?

Ever since the 1960s, the conventional academic wisdom has leaned toward flattering students by inflating grades and building self-esteem. If students look good, the reasoning goes, teachers and the school also look good.

Now Stanford University is rethinking that approach. Students and professors are debating the possibility of deflating grades by reinstating - horror of horrors - a failing grade, which was dropped in 1970. Although students remain divided on the issue, 3 out of 4 faculty members favor a return to the F, according to the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement.

Supporters of the change, expressing concern about declining standards, point out that last year nearly three-quarters of undergraduate students earned A's and B's.

Those who want to keep F out of Stanford's alphabet argue that a transcript should serve as a record of achievement rather than as a list of classes taken. It should be a "positive transcript," they say, not a record of work students didn't do.

Richard Zare, a Stanford chemistry professor, counters that view. Speaking for those who favor a return to the F grade, he told a campus newspaper, "I believe that we teach the wrong lessons to students if we continually forgive everything they do.

"We have a system that's so lenient that it doesn't prepare students for life. Life's not that lenient," Zare says.

Soft grading in colleges - giving A's to a C student - may, in fact, lead to a rude awakening when a graduate-turned-employee receives a more realistic kind of report card - a corporate performance review.

Employment experts encourage managers to begin and end performance appraisals with positive comments - giving a worker an A for effort, in effect. But they also emphasize the need to be specific about shortcomings in an employee's performance. …

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