Trident Technical College, in Charleston, S.C., has begun to evaluate its teachers partly on the percentage of students receiving a C or better. This is a trend worth watching. The red flags are obvious.
The school (which offers transfer courses in a comprehensive curriculum) also initiated a compressed schedule, with seven-week terms replacing the traditional semester. Student success rates have improved significantly, but it's hard to determine the exact reason. Some suspect grade inflation.
It's covered in a piece by Colleen Flaherty, in Inside Higher Ed. Please read the entire article, which is comprehensive on a complicated subject, but here is a key passage:
Professors must earn an “exceptional” or “satisfactory” rating to earn their 10 percentage points tied to student success, and there are 16 different ways to earn each. Ways to earn a top rating include 82 percent of students passing with a C or better (not factoring in withdrawals), or meeting the department average. Routes to a satisfactory rating include 76 percent of students passing with a C or falling within five percentage points of the departmental average. That’s over anywhere from a semester to a three-year average, and instructors may consider other quantified departmental measures of student learning where available.
There are many strategies to improve student success. Some are controversial, but most are at least worthy of discussion. However, it is hard to imagine a plan more injurious to academic integrity than evaluating teachers on how many students get good grades.
Importantly, faculty at the South Carolina school do not have tenure. The article mentions reports from adjunct instructors who say they have always felt pressured to pass more students. You can hear this sentiment at Texas community colleges if you listen for it. Actually, here lies one purported correlation that deserves study: Are grades higher with part-time teachers who have zero job security? Now that would be interesting. (Dissertation anyone?)
In Texas, we've been down this road before, with public education. When standards are in question, one perfunctory panacea is standardized examinations. So, um … how is that working out?
Every now and then a truly bad idea comes along. Evaluating instructors on grade distribution fits this category. We should trust teachers, not because they are perfect, but because their judgment is far better than the alternatives.