In the New York Times, the ever-excellent David Brooks describes a new social contract: Young people provide their middle-aged professors with optimism and flattery, and the professors provide them with grade inflation.
I just finished inflating the grades. Formally, we call this adding extra credit. Most of it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. A few students actually earned extra credit: three from fine blogging and four who sent in useful exam questions. But the vast majority of the extra credit I awarded is a bribe to fill out surveys and come to class.
At maximum, the bribe is 5% of the final grade. That can turn a B- into a B+, or a straight B into an A-. It can even save some students from failing. Can this be right? Should I really be rewarding the 25% of students who managed to be present all nine times I took attendance? Should I really be rewarding all the students because over 85% of them filled in the course evaluation?
I do it because I want thorough feedback on the course, and attendance does matter. And one immense benefit of the bribery is that when I get complaints/begging emails from those just below a grade boundary, I can use the non-academic freebie buffer to tell them they are in fact no where near a boundary. But I wonder if I should just get ballsy (honest?) and give grades only for academic performance.
Maybe it is that time of year when optimism and flattery are in short supply.