Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Who Deserves an A?

I called in on NPR's Talk of the Nation today. The subject was grade inflation. Having attended college from 1975-1979 and again from 2002-present with very different grade results, I felt I had something to offer to the conversation.

When I was at Syracuse University all those years ago, I was getting nearly as many Cs as As and Bs combined.  Certainly I got a C more often than an A.  Now here I am a quarter century later, getting upset at a single B among 13 As.

What changed?  I did.  In 1978 I was engaged, broke, lonely, suffering from depression, and utterly unable to write an English paper because nobody would tell me why my papers got lower grades than the ones by students with no talent but an ability to write to formula.  I played D&D, ran up phone bills calling John in Ohio, and was generally dysfunctional.  Two years before that, I was dealing with my parents' divorce, feuding with my mom, and having roommate problems in a tiny dorm room. Small wonder that my grades were less than stellar in that era.  And really, I suspect that many 18- to 22-year-olds, away from home for the first time and distracted by their new semi-autonomy, simply aren't all that dedicated to doing their best work in every college course.

By contrast, I was highly motivated by the time I went back to college late in 2002. I knew I needed the degree this time around. This was not just to abate my earlier failure to graduate, and to make my parents and husband happy; although those were factors as well. The main purpose was to apply the coursework and my decade of bookkeeping experience toward qualifying to be a CPA.  If I knew my debits from my credits, I ought to be able to parlay that into a profession that got me out of debt eventually, instead of getting me in a little deeper each year.  To do all that, I needed the degree.  More important, I needed to learn the material, so that I could be among the 7% of people without master's degrees who pass the CPA exam on the first try.  So I've worked hard, written the papers, and learned the material as best I could. If I were a perfect student, I'd be reading my tax accounting text right now instead of writing this, but nevertheless, I've worked very hard for all those As.

That's not the whole story, though.  I know it's not.  Many of my classmates get mostly As as well.  For some courses, I'm certain, everyone got an A.

Was that so terrible?  Did we not deserve those grades?

My feeling is that if we did the work and learned the material, we deserved the high grades, even if it meant that nobody got a B or a C. I'm in a class full of working adults.  We're generally more motivated to achieve good results in these career-oriented courses than a 20-year-old English major taking an elective.  If someone in my UoP classes got the A without doing the work, that's a different story.  It makes me wonder: did I get those As by working hard, or would I have had the same result with less effort on my part?

Ultimately it doesn't matter that much in my situation. Whether I get an A or a B, what matters in the end will be my knowledge of accounting as of the day I take the CPA exam, and on all the days after that when I need to apply that knowledge.

Until then, the A posted on the UoP website gives me an indicator that I'm on track for that long-term goal.




No comments: