25% 25% 50%

One thing that I have been told by a few different teaching mentors is the 25%25% 50% rule. The rule goes something like this: 25% of your class is going to be on board with almost anything that you do.  Another 25% will not be on board with almost anything that you do, whether it’s for lack of interest in the subject, or a heightened interest in another subject, or parties, or WoW, they just aren’t devoting that much time to your class. That last 50%, that’s the 50% that what you do makes all the difference whether or not they are on board. For the duration of the blog, let’s assume this is, at least generally, true.

Looking specifically at the “Case Against Grades”I’m wondering how some of the “effects of grading” and the benefits of getting rid of grades would affect the 25%25%50% rule. Would that first 25% who are totally on board no matter what, produce even better work? Think at an even higher level? Maybe. Maybe their already extant self motivation would be augmented and their creative freedom would result in some amazing things.

That other 25% though, what would be the effect of taking grades away from them? Would they magically care a little more? would that 25% become 12%? and the other 13% join the 50%? Would they all join that 50% and there would be no one focused on doing the bare minimum? Or are grades just motivating enough, to get the students that don’t care about the subject to put in a little effort in order to pass? I don’t know.

Before we go any further with this, let me admit that I’m looking at this from a hugely generalized perspective. I know every individual student has their own motivations, and each will respond differently to different scenarios. Still I can’t imagine that getting rid of grades is going to have the same effect on every student, the same way the keeping grades won’t have the same effect on every student.

That leaves the 50%, or the 63%, How would getting rid of grades alter their education? Personally I think this is where the lack of grades would have the most effect. I think they would be the ones that would relish in the autonomy, and be more focused on the task. They would spend more time thinking about how to accomplish the task than how the teacher wanted them to accomplish the task. They would be thinking more critically, more invested, all the things that getting rid of grades is supposed to accomplish.

All that being said, leads me to the question. What about that 12-25% that just aren’t going to care no matter what? Can we let them not care and give them credit for completing the class? Or would that lead to a decrease in the value of VT degree? Can we grade them more on a gut feeling about how much work they put in, or how much they participated? Or would that create legal issues if they decided to protest the grades, having nothing but the teacher’s opinion to go on? Also, how would that affect the university’s graduation rate? Do the politics or the university play a role in how all of this would go down if it were allowed to happen?


6 Replies to “25% 25% 50%”

  1. How have I not heard this before? So true. It’s hard for me to come up with an answer to your question (though I understand it’s rhetorical). I think this is because I’m one of those motivated by the grading system. I’ve never had a huge disliking of how I was taught information or how I was tested on it, though being in graduate school has enlightened me to what is fundamentally wrong with our system of teaching and assessing.

    I like things to be cute and dry and clear. And not having grades would throw me at first. Perhaps it would take people time to adjust to any theoretical new method of assessment–the percentages would fluctuate regularly for while. Like you, I have no answer, yet I still wonder what VT would look like if departments adopted new means of assessment.

  2. This is an interesting thought experiment and I have observed these three groups in my own classes, as a student and a teacher. I think one of the problems we run into when thinking about how to take grades out of the picture is that we think there is no other measure of progress for students. But what about the idea of using complete or incomplete? A student has either completed an assigned to the satisfaction of the teacher and student or they have not. The incomplete only becomes a permanent condition, and eventually a grade, unless the student does not try to improve it within the time given. In this type of situation, where the only thing separating a student from a “good grade” and a bad one is time and personal effort, and maybe some help and support from classmates and teachers, I think will greatly benefit these middle 50% students.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post! I think you posed some really interesting questions. Even with less focus on grades or in the absence of grades, students are still engaged in activities, complete assignments, and can get feedback on their work. Do you have ideas for how you could incorporate the idea of taking away grades into a class that you teach or might teach in the future? How, as a teacher, would you think about final grades if you shifted the focus away from numerical or letter grades in the course?

  4. Wow! this is the first post that I have read that mentioned the How. How would the system be without grades? How can we approach differently the grades to get rid of the numeric system?
    Personally, I think that the numeric/letters grading system do works. Specially, it help to be consistent and ensure equality assessment between students. However, I believe that a grade do not reflect the gained skills and knowledge through a specific process. That is why, my own conclusion is that we have to stick into the grading system and incorporate other components to ensure that at the end of the curse/lecture or whatever learning process, the students will have the desired outcome (e.g. skills, knowledge, experience).

  5. Recently in Korea, a college student raised an issue about unfairness in her class. She found that a student got a good grade without working, so she wrote about this student on her university bulletin board. Her writing was shared in the newspapers and the online portals, and finally people found that the student had a connection with the president and she entered her college illegally by abusing her political background.

    She was trying to graduate without attending the classes, but the grading system finally caught her. This scandal revealed the president’s secret friend (mother of the student), and continued to the impeachment of the president. This might be an extreme case, but I believe that we still need a fair grading system to filter out people who just want to buy their degree without studying , like the student in the story, even though they are a minority.

  6. Great to hear the 25% 25% 50% system in grads. I think the grad system need to basic on the discipline. There is a big difference between the lecture class and the studio class. If one day I will be a teacher and have rights to mark the grads then I will add the teaching section. it is the only available in the small class. After well organised, each student maybe has 20 minutes to do the presentation and teach others a skill relevant the class. It is my imagination. Students will learn more beyond the grads.

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