Friday, February 20, 2009

On Student Entitlement

Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, 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.

“I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it,” said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offered another theory.

“I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” Professor Brower said. “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.”
In other words, our pathological obsession with standardized testing has created a "hyper-efficient" group of test takers who have been taught rote memorization (at the extreme expense of critical thinking skills) and the value of test scores. This is nothing new, in one sense, but the sticker shock expressed by students once they hit the university level, and rote memorization is no longer a commodity, is palpable.

I see it every fall semester, especially amongst first year students in Intro to Sociology. There are the predictable "is this going to be on the test?" questions regarding lecture material, followed by some expression of disbelief once they get the first test back (variations of which include "there are obviously problems with the test" or "my score doesn't reflect the effort I put in to preparing for this test,").

Of course, at the heart of this sentiment is a sense of entitlement by students, and this is definitely a by-product of the standardized test myopia. But the pretense behind such claims, as portrayed in the article anyway, is quite startling.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”
There seems to be quite a disconnect regarding what grades and performance actually mean to students today. If I had expressed similar sentiments in college in the 1980's, I'm rather sure my professors would have said "doing everything that's required of you is expected, and therfore average." Hence, the "average" grade of a C. To go beyond that and receive a B is to be "better than average" and to get an A, one must be "superior" or excellent. Doing what's on the syllabus is half the battle, frankly.

There also seems to be confusion between "effort" and achievement. The effort you put into something is, again, half the battle, and as John Mellencamp put it in the song "Longest Days" (from the brilliant album "Life, Death, Love, & Freedom"): "your best efforts don't always pay." I can try as hard as I can to physically move Baldwin Hall off its foundation and across the street, but that doesn't guarantee Baldwin Hall moves an inch.

I don't want to sound too discouraging to my readership, which is disproportionately students, but this is nothing I don't say in class, at the beginning of each semester: if you do what is expected and what's on the syllabus, you'll end up with a C. To get an A, you really have to work, achieve and go beyond what is expected.

I also don't think it's right to be too hard on the students for the sentiments expressed. This sense of entitlement seems more of a societal byproduct than an individual problem. If we continue to raise our children using rat psychology, running them through one maze after another of standardized tests, and in a culture of grade inflation where no one fails and everyone is a winner, the shock students feel at the university level will continue. And may get worse.

No comments: