What does an A mean?

We had a very interesting discussion in a 6–12 Math Department meeting. (That’s 6–12 as in 6th-grade through 12th, not as in a six-hour meeting.) The big question was what an A means. For example, if you get an A in a non-honors class, does that mean that you belong in honors instead? Or that at least you should consider moving to honors? And if three quarters of the students in a class get A’s, does that mean that the standards need to be raised? And if a student learns everything that’s expected in a course, does that meaning that s/he should get an A?

To all of these questions, I say “not necessarily.” Others may disagree. Others do disagree.

C no longer means “average” (if it ever did). Today a B represents minimum competence. But that’s all in means; meeting what’s expected should earn a B, but an A should require exceeding the expectations. Furthermore, a student who does exceed the expectations through sustained hard work is probably correctly placed; the A says, “You’ve done a great job.” It does not say, “You’re in the wrong course.” And if I happened to teach a class in which a majority of the students were not only very capable but also worked hard enough to get A’s, I would be overjoyed. I wouldn’t say, “Your reward for working hard and learning so much that you exceeded expectations is that I’m going to make the course more difficult so that your grades will drop to B’s.” That sounds just plain ridiculous to me. But, as I say, your mileage will vary, and — as usual — not everyone agrees with me.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning, Weston