+ Grade Disputes May Be Caused by Student Expectations

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In the New York Times, Max Roosevelt describes research done by Ellen Greenberger, whose study is called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors.”  The Report was published in 2008 in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence

“I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students,” says Greenberger who is at the University of California.  She wanted to discover what was causing it.  She feels the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Another theory is offered by Aaron M Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  “I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” he says.  “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation.  And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

Says James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work.  There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ ”

Hogge’s observation is in line with Ellen Greenberger’s test results.  Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Professor Marshall Grossman, English professor at the University of Maryland,  has come to expect complaints when he hands back graded papers. 

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark.  I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C.  That is the default grade.  They see the default grade as an A.”   

Greenberger’s study found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.


At Vanderbilt, there is an emphasis on “the locus of control,” says Dean Hogge.  The goal is to put the academic burden on the student. 

“Instead of getting an A, they make an A.  Similarly, if they make a lesser grade, it is not the teacher’s fault.  Attributing the outcome of a failure to someone else is a common problem.”

Additionally, says Hogge, professors often try to “outline the ‘rules of the game’ in their syllabi.”  This is an effort to curb haggling over grades.

Professor Brower said professors at Wisconsin emphasized that students must “read for knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas.”  This is an informal mission statement.  It is intended to help “re-teach students about what education is.”  

Special seminars  are also offered for freshmen.  The seminars are integrated into introductory courses.  Examples include the conventional, like the global-warming seminar, and the more obscure, like physics in religion.

The seminars are “meant to help students think differently about their classes and connect them to real life,” says Brower.

He feels that if students develop a genuine interest in their field, grades will take a back seat, and holistic and intrinsicallymotivated learning can take place.

“College students want to be part of a different and better world, but they don’t know how.  Unless teachers are very intentional with our goals, we play into the system in place.”

sole source: Max Roosevelt’s article in the NY Times on 2/18/09.  www.nytimes.com

tutoring in Columbu OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com 


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