Faculty Forum Papers
THE DEMERITS OF GRADING ON A CURVE AFTER WITHDRAWAL
Gary Musser, Robert D. Kiekel
THE DEMERITS OF GRADING ON A CURVE AFTER WITHDRAWALIn a recent debate on the merits of various withdrawal-from-course dates, the following
argument was advanced: Students should not be sympathetic to other students withdrawing
because it can affect the grades of the students who stay in the course. For example, if a
student has a "C" grade and everyone below him withdraws, he will be at the bottom and will
have to work his way back up (our interpretation - he will be failing and he will have to earn a
"C" relative to the class of remaining students).
This argument suggests that whatever the composition of a class, the course grades must
fit a "curve" or have a normal distribution. Taken to the extreme, this argument suggests that if a
class ends up with five students, a professor may feel obligated to assign each of the grades A,
B, C, D, F to the students irrespective of the level of mastery of the material presented. Hence,
someone must fail (and someone must be an A student).
Grading is a difficult procedure at best. To many professors with experience it becomes more
of an art than a science. From term-to-term students change but "A" papers become easier to
recognize just as do the "F" papers. To make the process more "precise" we may use numbers to
justify our conclusions. But as professionals we should be able to recognize quality work when we
From any point of view the assumption that course grades will have a normal distribution after
all withdrawals is incorrect and unfair. Not only is it unfair, it can be demoralizing and may actually
encourage withdrawals. It seems that setting reasonably high standards for our students and rewarding
all who attain those standards is a fairer way to treat and motivate our students.
Gary Musser, Mathematics
Robert D. Kiekel, Foreign Languages
February 28, 1984
(*Based upon discussions in the Faculty Senate Meetings of January 1984 (#406) and February
1984 (#407). See Minutes for background information.)
Opinions expressed by authors of Faculty Forum articles are not necessarily those of the
OSU Faculty or Faculty Senate.