Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Subdivision of GPA

Many math department faculty at LCC are into discussing pedagogy and other aspects of being effective as instructors and as a department. (This is part of what makes the job a nice one.) Yesterday there was a "colloquium on grading" whch involved spending an hour discussing grading philosphies and strategies while snacking.

This morning I had a related idea -- something big and odd enough to be worth posting here, rather than only on the online discussion forums used by the math department faculty to process ideas.

At the "colloquium on grading" it was of course mentioned that there are two basic ways to rank a student by assigning a grade. A normative rank compares the student to others in the class. An objective rank compares the student to an impersonal set of standards.

Instructors at LCC may pick which they do. I could create a syllabus that said, "Each test is designed to spread out student scores to compare you. This class will be graded on a curve," and that would work if I wrote appropriate tests. Or I could create a syllabus that said, "Each test is designed to measure what percentage of the topics you have mastered. Your score on the test will not be curved," and that would also work if I wrote appropriate tests.

Currently the college bookkeeping system blurs together how a student has received nromative and objective rankings. All grades are averaged into a GPA.

It would make more sense if a student is assigned two GPAs, with the grades from their normatively ranked classes and objectively ranked classes kept distinct throughout their community college career. (A weighted average could still be on the student's transcript for applications that ask for a single GPA.)

This would make an LCC student's transcript more valuable to local employers. Certain jobs require people who are unusually competent at a range of things: the people that consistently perform at the top of their class. Those employers would value having a student's normative GPA distinct. Other jobs require people who can be trained on-the-job: people that retain a high percentage of what is presented to them. Those employers would value having a student's objective GPA distinct.

The cost of such a change would primarily be a financial issue determined by the flexibility of the college's database software. (The small cost in time for professors, before entering grades, to check one box to select between "normative" and "objective" is trivial compared to any increased value of having an LCC degree.)

The timing of such a change would be a delayed effect. If grades were thus categorized starting in the 2006-2007 school year, this would be practically ignored until the Class of 2010 became the first class with dual-GPA transcripts.

UPDATE: My wife says the issue is math-centric, and ponders if any other departments do any objectively ranked grading. I respond by conjecturing that the popularity of objectively ranked grading will increase as government funding continues to increasingly favor having schools (of all kinds) demonstrate that they teach skill proficiency.