How hard (again)

Students are asked in the end of course surveys What changes would improve your learning? Of the 127 SC200 students who answered this question this year, the most common suggestion (made by over a quarter of them) was that I grade easier.

I can not see how making it easier to get an A would improve learning. Nor can I see that students or society are well served by dumbing things down. In fact, the more I look at the world our students are entering, the more I think we have stretch them further than we currently do.
The only way to get students to stretch is to grade hard. I wish that were not so, but it is. Students have so many competing demands on their time (academic and non-academic) that grades become the arbiter of effort.
Indeed, am I grading hard enough? Deciding how high to set the bar is one of the most difficult problems in Higher Education. All else flows from it, but so far as I can tell, no one has any idea what we are shooting for. I don’t know if I have the bar set right in my course. About half the class got an A or an A-; a quarter think I grade too hard. Is that about right?
Let’s say it is. What that means is that I need to figure out ways to help those who are feeling really stretched. Somehow I have to figure a way to encourage the unhappy 25% to make use of the resources I have available. And to figure out what else would help.
For everyone’s sake, we need to figure ways to help them achieve – without lowering the ambition.

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