The moderated life is a false life

Last week I fought one of my old battles. I was at one of the polytechnics that I lecture in for a meeting to moderate and key in exam marks. After taking one look at my marklist, the Module Coordinator said, “I think your marks are too high. There are too many As in your class.” So I asked her why, and she replied, “It is not typical for a class to have 6 out of 18 students having distinctions.” Here is the good ol’ bell-curve argument again. Before I could point out the fallacies in this theory, she suggested, “Why don’t you minus 5 marks across the board?” I told her that there is no basis for this, and I asked why must there be an expected quota of distinction marks. If we don’t expect any student to hit 95, or 88, or 91 marks out of 100, then why do we put the maximum mark as 100? Why not mark it down to a max of 90? But in that case, it won’t be “typical” for students to get 80-plus marks. So why not reduce the max to 80? Or 70? Or 50? And ad reductio? (Do you see the terrible mindset we have painted ourselves into?) Ok, let’s say we go back to 100 marks as the max. If I give a student 92/100, I have got to ask myself what more should I reasonably expect the student to produce, given the exam circumstances, in order to get the extra 8 marks? In other words, we’d better be prepared to show our students what an exam script with 100 marks would look like. If not, we are setting up false ceilings and crushing hopes. At this point, I would have been branded a “lenient marker”. But since when has “lenient” been synonymous with weakness, over-generosity or worse, sloppiness? There is a huge difference between positive marking to encourage students in the process of formative assessment, and having ideas like “8.5% is the average a class should have in terms of As” or “It is not typical for a class to have so many distinctions”. If we keep thinking like that, is it any wonder that we produce students who are demoralised, discouraged and mediocre? We keep telling them to push harder, to strive for the top, and that ‘impossible is nothing’; but when they do reach for the stars, we hold their legs and bring them back to earth — all in the name of “moderation”.

“Come to the edge, he said,
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came
He pushed them
and they flew.”

-Guillaume Apollinaire

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~ by irwin on July 6, 2009.

3 Responses to “The moderated life is a false life”

  1. […] The moderated life is a false life […]

  2. Thank you for this post. I am so glad to know a teacher like you.

  3. Thanks rachel! =)

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