Today is a day of grading for me. All of my classes today are taking assessments which affords me the opportunity to get a lot of grading done. In fact, I have one set of essays down for the day! Of course, since they are assessing I’ll be grading more in the future. I, like most teachers, grade A LOT. We talk about grades and assessments all the time in schools among teachers and with students. Like it or not, grades are a tremendously influential piece of the educational system for us. And as we talk about grades, I constantly hear teachers saying that C is “average.” It is well past time to change that mindset. We need to stop saying that to ourselves, among our colleagues and to our students.
I teach upper level students who are used to getting good grades. In fact many of them are upset at even getting a B. A C is unfathomable to many, if not most, of them. I am constantly trying to get them to stop worrying so much about their grades and recognize that the B on their essay is not a bad grade. It is an uphill battle, but I am very conscientious to make sure that I don’t tell them that a B is “Above average” because that solidifies the idea that C is average.
You see, a C is not the average anymore. I just did some data checking of my grades-and remember I have a reputation for being a hard grader-and both the mean and mode in almost all my classes for the last few years is a B. And I am willing to bet the same is true for most teachers. The stereotypical bell curve no longer peaks at a C; the peak is at a B. There is an argument to be made about grade inflation here, sure, but a C isn’t average anymore.
Secondly, society’s attitude towards grades have changed. A C was once acceptable for many. Now it’s not; and it’s not because of this shift. Ask just about any parent (and there is research available for this): B’s are OK; C’s are not.
Finally, the term average doesn’t belong in our grading vocabulary if we want to call ourselves standards based. Average is, by definition, a term to be used in a norm referenced model. Average is about comparing one student to the rest of the class. If we are attempting to grade based on level of proficiency towards a standard, then average is irrelevant.
Let’s shift our mindset and our vocabulary. A C isn’t average.