Re: Grade Inflation

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Somebody explained to me the other day that grade inflation, rather than being associated with the kids these days and their horrifying helicopter parents, actually was an outgrowth of the Vietnam era. At that time, if a student's GPA didn't stay sufficiently high, he lost his draft deferral. So faculty, especially at Ivies, began inflating grades to keep their students from serving. If this story is true, someone should really write it up. Perhaps someone on sabbatical?


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:52 AM
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Oh, I don't do real research.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:55 AM
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Sounds more like a job for an historian.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:55 AM
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Actually, professors of geophysics and computer science.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:04 AM
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Also, my courses almost never have a normal distribution. A common distribution in my courses is quasi-flat: 5 As, 5 Bs, 5 Cs, 1 D, 1 F. Which comes out to a low B average.

In some courses it's really common for me to have a bimodal distribution, particularly the calculus sequence where the material is really clicking or it's really not.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:09 AM
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5 to the graphs of the link in 4, implying that a normal distribution is ideal.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:09 AM
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1: This graphic, from this essential website* would seem to at least support that hypothesis.

*Which has been linked multiple times in the archives. But which admittedly, might require someone with historical research skills to find.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:10 AM
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Grades inflate faster these days.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:10 AM
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Honestly, my small private liberal arts school seemed to have plenty of grade inflation twenty years ago - at least, I can't explain my grades any other way, given that I know I wrote some simply godawful papers.

I've had to work much harder here at Large Land Grant and been able to pull much less bullshit - even the otherwise disappointing "let's read Freud but nothing complex, critical or useful in situating the texts historically" class that I took for background reading was graded fairly strictly. I was very, very surprised.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:13 AM
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Sometimes a B is just a B.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:17 AM
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The 4 guys and the 7 guys are the same guys.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:17 AM
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Apparently, there is no grade inflation at community colleges and more grade inflation at private colleges than public colleges.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:20 AM
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Okay, I'll write up something based on 4 and 7 for this newfangled weblog I have. Then we'll see if someone who actually cares wants to run with it. I doubt it, as historians of education are more interested in boring things.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:30 AM
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I'm teaching undergrads for the first time this fall, so I guess I'm going to have to actually think about grades. Is breaking the class up into quartiles and giving them B, B+, A-, and A too simplistic? I really have no idea what any of these things mean.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:37 AM
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I guess assigning letter grades would be easy if there was an obvious multimodal distribution on a histogram, since then any boundaries wouldn't be artificial.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:38 AM
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14: I find it helpful to grade individual assignments, and then compute semester grades based on a weighted average described in the syllabus.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:40 AM
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Another chart.

The big rise from 1966 that levels off after '74 certainly seems to support the Vietnam hypothesis. But what explains the (shallower) rise starting at around 1990?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:44 AM
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16: Sure, but how do you decide which numerical values map to which letter grades?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:45 AM
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17: I blame cholera.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:50 AM
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17: the defunding of public higher ed and related massive increase in tuition, I'm guessing.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:51 AM
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I blame cholera.

I selectively killed off students with lower grades?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:52 AM
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Chart in 17 is the same as the one in 4, BTW.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:53 AM
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Our faculty handbook helpfully explains that the grade of A is to be assigned for "extraordinary distinction," so I guess 30% of our students are extraordinary.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:53 AM
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In the course I taught last semester, the professor adhered to a strict (gaussian) curve, ranging from A to I think C-? On the final project, there was a relatively specific grading rubric that we teaching assistants were supposed to use. I held to it pretty strictly, which meant that students in my sections had a mean score of 75 or so, but who cares, right? That's why there's a curve. The other TFs, I realized later, gave out grades based on the absolute letter grade they thought the students deserved on the project, and mostly ignored the rubric, so my students got absolutely hammered on their final grades. HOORAY!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:54 AM
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And then I found N*5 dollars worth of grant money and so I hopefully don't have to teach this year. Hooray!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:54 AM
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Looking around a bit at the site linked in 7, I find this: "An oft-cited reason for grade inflation in the 1960's was the kindness of faculty members toward students trying to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam War." A citation would be nice. Oh well. Regardless, there's also this.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:56 AM
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Allow me to be the first to link to this chart.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:56 AM
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This article quotes the person who created the site linked in 7: "According to Rojstaczer, grade inflation began in earnest during the Vietnam War era -- when students who flunked out of college were drafted into the army. Professors began awarding high grades to prevent students from being deployed."

Again, there's no citation, but the data seem to bear out the claim.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:58 AM
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This links the rise of grade inflation with the increased tendency of faculty to move from job to job in the 60s (and thus, presumably, have weaker affective bonds to their institution):

"According to a widespread belief, grade inflation took off during the Vietnam War era, in response to the idiosyncrasies of the Selective Service System. According to an equally widespread belief, the late '60s and early '70s were also a time when tenure became far more elusive. Professors began moving from one school to another every few years, with little reason to care about the reputational damage they left in their wakes. So perhaps the war was irrelevant; grade inflation was the inevitable consequence of upheaval in the tenure system."


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:03 AM
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John Wellesley Hardin once gave a man a C because he was snoring.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:21 AM
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We need a good rhyme for the principle in 29. "Give the easy A, do research for the day."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:26 AM
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I do understand grade inflation from the point of view of the privileged private college undergrad. "I've worked my ass off and gone through hell studying and built a fucking well in Ecuador to get to this place, and am mortgaging my future at high expense for it, and you're going to give me a fucking C+ that I can't show my parents and might screw up my future jon at the consulting firm just because you want to stick to some old fashioned principle? Fuck you!"

Harsh grading makes sense when college is cheap and not so hyperselective at the front end. Of course in the current system this just means that easy grades are yet another perk of the already privileged.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:32 AM
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Of course in the current system this just means that easy grades are yet another perk of the already privileged.

Perhaps it's time to bring back the Gentleman's C.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:36 AM
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Professors began moving from one school to another every few years, with little reason to care about the reputational damage they left in their wakes. So perhaps the war was irrelevant; grade inflation was the inevitable consequence of upheaval in the tenure system.

All the fault of those rootless cosmopolitans.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:37 AM
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28, 29: Here's what we do. Set up one country that gets into stupid wars and institutes a draft with exemptions for exceeding grade point minimums. And another one without tenure*. Science!

*Also, no sabbaticals.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:40 AM
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34: yeah, that reasoning seems like its built upon a foundation of the purest bullshit.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:41 AM
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I guess IRBs and the like would be a barrier to 35. We'll get Zuckerberg and Christian Rudder to do it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:43 AM
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34, 36: Also minorities and women. I blame McGovern.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:43 AM
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34: yeah, that reasoning seems like its built upon a foundation of the purest bullshit.

I for one am shocked - shocked! - that it comes from an article in Slate.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:48 AM
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1, 26

My 6th grade math teacher used to claim this was the case.

For grading, I've taught a small number undergrads at an elite institution, and I try not to be too grade inflationary but my students all tend to do good work. Even the worst essays show some sign of intelligent thinking and writing skill, and the best essays are extraordinary. Maybe I have too low an opinion of the sorts of things 18 year olds ought to be able to write, but I am on the whole impressed. My students also tend to have a good work ethic, where a B- gets them in my office asking for advice on how they can do better next time, and by and large they seem to take criticism seriously--rarely do I see the same sort of systematic mistake across essays. I've never had a student who seemed to feel entitled to a grade, but almost all the students cared about getting a good grade and were willing to put in the work. When you think that top schools have acceptance rates under 10%, it's not that surprising that a group of say, 10 students culled from the top 3% of America's high school students are all capable of producing B+ or above work.

Interestingly, the kids who don't do well do really really poorly. I've had to flunk almost 15% of the students I've taught. When these people did the work they did fine, they just mostly didn't do the work. Plagiarism is also a problem, though not one I've had to deal with.


Posted by: Buttercup | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:54 AM
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Another even more slatey possibility is that the Vietnam War doesn't explain grade inflation: grade inflation explains the Vietnam War. The opening up of university education to the postwar masses (via the GI Bill, etc) caused panic in the upper classes, who saw their sons' privileged places under threat. Could a dopey scion of the elite be kicked out of university for getting poor grades, in order to make room for a brighter member of the servant classes? Would a gentleman's C have to give way to a toiler's A? Unthinkable. But what was the alternative? How do you undermine the grading system at universities across the country - impossible to corrupt thousands of academics at once?

So the elites started the Vietnam War to motivate academics to inflate grades out of compassion for their students - with the side effect of inflating away the difference between their dopey (but rich) sons and their intelligent (but poor) rivals.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:56 AM
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One of the things I kick around in my head to kill time while unable to sleep is whether a modern, prosperous society could function without any school or university assessment at all - no grades, no degrees. I'm thinking probably it can?


Posted by: real ffeJ annaH | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:04 AM
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In fact, when Grade Inflation was just a child, it stumbled upon a time machine. Finding itself in Boston in 1912, it stumbled around in uncomprehending fear, falling through an alley door into the kitchen of the Omni Parker House Hotel. Startled, a baker started shouting at Grade Inflation in his natve Viertnamese. "AIEEE!" said the child, and threw the only missile it had at hand, a dog-eared copy of The Communist Manifesto. As the baker, unhurt, curiously picked up the book, the world dissolved in shimmers as Grade Inflation returned to its own, much-transformed era.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:05 AM
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I'm not dead sure what people are complaining about with respect to grade inflation -- is it that the inflated grades don't differentiate between good and bad students, so everyone is lumped up at the top of the scale whether they're doing spectacular work or just scraping by? Or is it just that the scale has slipped upward, so that where spectacular used to mean A, good meant B, and you did the work and should get credit for the class but I'm not impressed meant C, now those grades have turned into A+ spectacular, A good, and B meh. If it's the latter, I really don't see the problem, assuming everyone who's using grades as information knows the code.

If the issue is that expectations in classes are dropping, that seems like a totally different problem.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:07 AM
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41: the Vietnam War doesn't explain grade inflation: grade inflation explains the Vietnam War.

You should seriously pitch that to Slate.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:09 AM
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45 to 43.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:10 AM
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42: oh, probably. But it would get replaced with reliance on entrance examinations. It won't be "you got this mark in your high-school exams", it'll be "you managed to get admitted to this university".

Much as it is now, in fact. Far more impressive on your job application to say "I went to Oxford" than to say "I got a First from Loughborough".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:16 AM
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Why is it that grad students are only supposed to get A's and that B's are practically considered failing? I mean, everybody in a Ph.D. program is supposed to be at the top of their game, but everyone is not going to be equally good in all areas. Why don't they just have. Stellar, satisfactory, and not satisfactory and give out stellar very rarely. Because in a doctoral program, an A just means satisfactory anyway.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:16 AM
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57: Oh, I meant something more radical than that. There wouldn't be any entrance exams either, because you wouldn't get admitted to a uni, as such. Unis would just be there, in your town, and you go to them to learn stuff, or to do research. Where ever class space was in demand, it would be allocated first-come-first-serve, with demotions in priority to those who have already taken it before.


Posted by: real ffeJ annaH | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:21 AM
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Passing in my program means B+ or better. Nobody cares, though. For all practical purposes it does just mean "meh-enough, satisfactory, extra satisfactory", but I suspect one reason is to allow grad students to take classes with undergrads and yet still be held to a higher standard.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:21 AM
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Where ever class space was in demand, it would be allocated first-come-first-serve, with demotions in priority to those who have already taken it before.

So, a brave new world in which students would spend three years sleeping on pavements outside the lecture theatre in order not to lose their place in the queue.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:27 AM
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And in which every job would have a three-hour admission exam.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:29 AM
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My community college was more-or-less like that. Also, if you waited eight hours (no bathroom breaks! They might call your name!) you could have a drop-in advising appointment.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:29 AM
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51: Persistent short supply in a given area would be remedied with more resources allocated to it.


Posted by: real ffeJ annaH | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:32 AM
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36: Yeah, that conclusion seems like it's entirely based on a simplistic model that doesn't make sense if you think about it for more than five seconds. Untenured professors care more about their personal reputation than the reputation of their institutions? Even if you were to grant that,for the sake of argument, why would that lead to grade inflation? You expect an itinerant professor's reputation as an easy grader to follow them from institution to institution? Keeping in mind that the biggest surge in grades took place in the 60s/70s, when there were no web sites to transmit that information, and most of that kind of information was strictly word of mouth between related students at the same institution, how exactly does an itinerant professor expect to profit from inflating his or her grades?

At least the Vietnam War hypothesis, true or not, explains both the timing and the direction of the biggest grade change. Any competing hypothesis has to do at least as well as that.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:36 AM
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44: for people who aren't thinking about it very hard, it's just another declension narrative that suits our culture's broad-based "You kids should get off my lawn" dyspepsia. There used to standards, you see, back when I was in school! (Let's ignore the data, which suggest this is bullshit).

For people who are thinking a bit harder, the issue is one of leveling the playing field. Community colleges seemingly don't inflate grades nearly as much as run-of-the-mill four-year institutions, which, in turn, seem not to inflate grades quite as much as the Ivies and their ilk. Given that, students graduating from elite institutions, students who typically already have a leg up, are boosted even further by their inflated grades.

Mandatory conscription would solve all of these problems, of course, as the nostalgic dickweeds would have the sense that the soft option was no longer available, and the social levelers would see their dream come true. Win-win!


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:39 AM
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Yeah, that conclusion seems like it's entirely based on a simplistic model that doesn't make sense if you think about it for more than five seconds

VW is burning a lot of pixels there just to say "this is a Slate article".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:43 AM
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Sorry, Dave W.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:43 AM
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Mandatory conscription into community college would solve all of these problems


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:43 AM
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Time travel would work, too. "I'm going to bring my transcript back in time and rule the world!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:44 AM
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When I was at Cal and my brother was at the Junior University, my friends and I used to joke with him that out on his side of the Bay they thought the alphabet only had too letters, and the institution was afraid of permanently damaging the little darlings if it were ever revealed that some student sometime might get a C.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:47 AM
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doesn't make sense if you think about it for more than five seconds

Yes but bear in mind that the guy who wrote that piece took upwards of a week to figure out why people walk on stairs but often stand on escalators.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:54 AM
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In the 60's weren't a lot of students skipping out on a lot of class for demonstrations and other activity? My mother said one reason they could do that was they knew it wasn't hard to get jobs after college, but I imagine there must have also been some lenient policies making it possible to do all that and still graduate.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:58 AM
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62: the guy who wrote that piece took upwards of a week to figure out why people walk on stairs but often stand on escalators.

The opening sentence of that article couldn't be more perfect:

I am privileged to teach in one of the world's most respected economics departments.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 8:58 AM
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63: Well, duh, you know the profs were all out protesting or else tripping so who was there to take attendance? Good times!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:09 AM
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The problem with grade inflation is the effect it has on those of us with thousands of UCAS points saved up for a rainy day. I'm being ROBBED, I tell you.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:10 AM
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62: Wow. I'd dispute with them that the analysis on marginal distance doesn't work; it does, they just aren't taking into account the opportunity cost of not doing anything. If two choices have the same benefit (on a given metric) but different costs, you go with the cheapest one. So if you measure costs in energy expenditure, standing still wins. If you measure costs in some aggregation of energy expenditure and time, either could win (which is why some people, astonishingly, walk in escalators). And we let these guys rule the world.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:11 AM
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People take attendance at US colleges? I could, quite easily, have gone several years at university without attending any classes other than small group or individual tutorials.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:11 AM
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For people who are thinking a bit harder, the issue is one of leveling the playing field. Community colleges seemingly don't inflate grades nearly as much as run-of-the-mill four-year institutions, which, in turn, seem not to inflate grades quite as much as the Ivies and their ilk. Given that, students graduating from elite institutions, students who typically already have a leg up, are boosted even further by their inflated grades.

I hate to say this. But. Isn't the theory there that the kid in community college who's the spectacular best in her class is probably doing work that would be acceptable but unsurprising at Stanford (or whereever), and the kid who's unimpressively getting by at community college is doing work that really wouldn't cut it at Stanford, so it actually makes informational sense to have Stanford's grades centered around a higher point than the community college?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:13 AM
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68: Sometimes!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:15 AM
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In the one class I taught, I called the roll for the first couple of weeks as a way to learn names. Then I started calling everybody "Hey, you."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:17 AM
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re: 69

I don't think you can really make those kinds of comparisons across institutions. Where by 'don't really think' I mean, 'Clearly you can't'.

'Well, it's an Oxford* A, so it's 112% of a Stanford A, but only in English and Philosophy. In Maths it's 97.2% of a Stanford A, 93% of a Caltech A, and 120% of a Cambridge A.'

* doesn't mark students at all, for several years of their course, actually.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:18 AM
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I think that some law schools explicitly use just that kind of inter-institutional weighing of GPA for applicants.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:20 AM
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69: if you're talking about the quality of the work produced at Stanford versus Foothill College, I think that theory probably holds water. But if you're talking about measuring the minds of the students -- which I don't think grades do especially well, but that seems to be what many employers want to pretend that they do -- then I think the social levelers would wonder if you're trolling.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:22 AM
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re: 73

I wonder how they do it internationally? Because I think my Glasgow average mark in Philosophy was about 68-70%. Which translated to a naked GPA looks pretty bad.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:22 AM
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Also what 72 says.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:22 AM
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And of course, if you're taking the social levelers concern seriously, you have to factor in all of the advantages that the Stanford students have had on the road to Palo Alto that the Foothill College students haven't.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:23 AM
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75: They probably don't worry much about it much outside of people with Fulbright's and such.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:24 AM
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62 is amazing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:25 AM
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16: Sure, but how do you decide which numerical values map to which letter grades?

I use strict 10 point intervals, and generally no curve. (Heebie U has no pluses or minuses.) I do then look at the marginal cases and try to figure out if the people who are almost the next grade are surprising to me, and if there are any extenuating circumstances going on. Occasionally if there seems to be a natural break in the class at, say, 88 or 72 or something, I'll give grades according to the natural breaks.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:29 AM
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74: There's quality of the work, and then there's, um, quantity of information now understood by the student? I mean, if you're interested in whether this person has the prerequisite knowledge to manage graduate classes at some particular institution successfully, or has some set of vocationally useful knowledge or skills, the Stanford/Foothills distinction seems like it might be a useful one even if you weren't thinking of it as meaning anything about the inherent qualities of the students.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:34 AM
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People take attendance at US colleges?

We're heavily encouraged to, because if you can quickly identify first year students who are heavily skipping class, you can massively improve your retention rates by targeting those students for interventions, etc.

The argument that speaks to me, personally, is that if the student fails out their first year, they're stuck with thousands of dollars of loans and absolutely nothing to show for it. If college were free, I'd have absolutely no problem letting them flame out and grow from the experience.

I personally do not take attendance because I do not want to deal with any student who feels like they did not choose to be there of their own volition. But that's a luxury, since I primarily teach at least 200 level classes. If I taught College Algebra, it would probably be appropriate for me to at least spot-check attendance to help out those students.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:34 AM
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I was required or strongly encouraged (I forget which) to take attendance for college athletes in the class. I didn't have anybody from the revenue sports. It was just track and field people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:37 AM
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Also grades are so goddamn counter-productive to the classroom. I absolutely do not fault grade-obsessed students for being so, but having obsessed students sabotages much of what makes learning effective because they're constantly trying to short-circuit assignments in order to optimize their grade/effort ratio.

What's really effective learning is to tap people's curiosity and sense of play in material. To get them to explore and go down wrong paths and then think about why things didn't work. That is so unbelievably hard if they're in an effort-trade-off frame of mind, because the pay-off seems so dubious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:38 AM
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Yeah, we have to fill out a boatload of extra paperwork - 3 week checks, 6 week checks, plus little signed notes twice a semester - for our athletes and high-risk-dropout students.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:40 AM
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Anyway, I taught one class and that was ten years ago. I'm obviously the expert.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:41 AM
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They didn't even give me a boat.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:42 AM
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75: Canadian GPAs are like that too, but they do translate to letter grades. An A- is around 80% or something.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:43 AM
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82.2: what if they fail out their ninth year? Asking for a friend relative.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:52 AM
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89: Cynical answer - not nearly so much of a financial burden for a school struggling to maintain sufficient enrollment.

Slightly less cynical answer - there aren't so many of them, but after probation they get put on all of the 3 week check/6 week check roller coasters until they start making sound progress towards degree again.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 9:56 AM
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The theory I heard about why MIT has a 5.0 scale is that if you have a good GPA (4-5) then you're dealing with employers who are familiar with the MIT scale and will understand it. If you have a bad GPA (3-4) you'll be dealing with employers who aren't as familiar with the MIT system and might thing that a 3.3 is a B+ instead of the C+ it actually is.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:08 AM
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81, 74, etc -- seems to me there are two choices, (a) letting Stanford inflate its grades so everyone gets an A or an A+ and hoping, not very realistically, that somehow the stricter grading curve at Foothill Community College means that an A there is roughly equivalent (purely in quality of work, not addressing the separate issue of "measuring the mind"/potential) to *some* grade at Stanford (whether that's an A or a B or whatever, who knows) OR (b) having Stanford not inflate its grades, Foothill Community College inflate its grades, and have employers, or whoever, account for the greater prestige/toughness of Stanford in comparing a "B" at Stanford to a "B" at Foothill.

Seems to me that in the abstract the latter system is much preferable: Employers and the like are already going to heavily inflate the prestige of the Stanford degree no matter what (because they know how hard it is to get in), but might be more able in the latter system to compare an exceptional Foothill student to an average-mediocre Stanford student, to the advantage of the exceptional Foothill Student.

"Everyone gets an A" at Stanford is protection for the students who got in there but whose college work is just OK to mediocre; it's effectively an insurance policy you receive when you get into and choose to go to (and pay for) Stanford; on average, it's a better deal for you if you attend Stanford than the latter system.

As I'm sure LB knows, the "insurance policy" is explicitly why the top 3 law schools have effectively eliminated grades; with super opaque grades, their students have an easier time competing with students from lesser schools, and the top schools can get away with it because they're so prestigious. This is slightly harmful for the absolute top students at the very top schools, but provides a very valuable protective buffer to the mediocre middle and bottom half at top law schools.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:13 AM
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92.1 was very confusing. For the second option, I meant that neither Stanford nor Foothill would inflate its grades.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:14 AM
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College grades were relatively unimportant to a student's future until quite recently. Men with gentleman's Cs like FDR went to elite law schools and didn't much care about their grades there either, providing they passed and felt in good conscience they understood the material more or less.

I think for the great majority of jobs where it mattered at all attendance at college was used as an indicator, and sometimes whether you graduated, but that was the extent of it. So you were a college man if you'd been to college, and the guy and the next desk doing the same job might just as easily not be.

That's all changed enormously, and today transcripts may remain weirdly relevant your entire career.

Since I've been working in as a lawyer in e-discovery I've found myself working through or for large law firms for the first time in my career. I've applied for a few permanent staff positions in e-discovery at those firms when I've been aware of openings. These are not partnership track positions at all, just steadier and better-paid jobs doing mostly what I already do. And transcripts are inevitably required for those jobs.

I don't know how much weight transcripts would be given; these are relatively new positions and there may be a fair amount of discretion allowable. But hiring in organizations like that is inevitably about covering your decisions as a hirer. You might have a strong hunch someone might or might not do well, but as a hirer you'd need to be able to point to some metric justifying your decision, just in case.

Now I've been a research attorney for the great majority of my 29 years as a lawyer, mostly in legal publishing. I've worked with databases and search engines for many years, through generations of applications much less intuitive and user-friendly than today's. I was actually in-house editor for a pioneering treatise on e-discovery over 20 years ago, so I've been familiar with the issues and economics of the field for a long time.

And this knowledge and background tells, on nearly every case I work on.

Now my transcripts, while not embarrassing, are artifacts of another time, of different career expectations. I was not trying to get a clerkship, nor join a large firm, and was already working as a researcher for what would be my longest employer.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:16 AM
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College grades were relatively unimportant to a student's future until quite recently. Men with gentleman's Cs like FDR went to elite law schools and didn't much care about their grades there either, providing they passed and felt in good conscience they understood the material more or less.

This is of course because of the so-called democratization of higher education. I know you know this, but it seems worth pointing out that grades have become more important in part* because so many more people go to college/university in this country than did when FDR was in school.

* Also probably because of a general mania for assessment.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:21 AM
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92.2 is probably right -- 69 and 81 were more alluding to what I see as a colorable argument for elite university grade inflation that hadn't been addressed than meaning to be convinced by it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:22 AM
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It would be impossiby bad teaching to give a Cal II course at Heebie U where an A meant the same caliber of understanding as an A in Cal II at Stanford. Putting questions on the test that allow a student to demonstrate a Stanford level of comprehension is actually cruel to the middle third of students at Heebie U.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:22 AM
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Definitely a B at local community college is not at all comparable to a B at local flagship U. However, according to the state government we're required to treat it as though it is. Upshot is some of our students decide take their "hard" intro classes at the community college in order to get a good grade more easily, and then fail the harder classes because they're unprepared. Then they fail the harder classes again and again rather than taking the previous class since it wouldn't count for credit.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:24 AM
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Right, but I think Halford's right that the way to correct for that is by assuming employers/grad schools understand what the different schools are like rather than trying to put both schools on the same grading scale, as I suggested in 69 and 81.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:25 AM
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I'm not actually arguing with anyone.

There are two dimensions of information that need to be conveyed - how difficult was the course, and how did the student do relative to a full understanding of the material. A single letter grade obviously can't do both of those axes without some context.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:29 AM
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When I was on the academic job market in the early 00's, I recall some places asking for transcripts as part of the application package. I think these requests came mainly from SLACs, but I'm not positive. This was a while ago and I've mostly tried to blot the horrors of job searching from my memory.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:29 AM
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It would be impossiby bad teaching to give a Cal II course at Heebie U where an A meant the same caliber of understanding as an A in Cal II at Stanford. Putting questions on the test that allow a student to demonstrate a Stanford level of comprehension is actually cruel to the middle third of students at Heebie U.

I'm not sure I follow this, on multiple levels. It's surely possible to have "Cal II" course that does demand more of students, but you'd make it an elective. I'm not exactly au fait with how course requirements work at Heebie-U, or indeed U of Randomstate. But if you need to do maths to graduate, couldn't you have basic maths and advanced maths courses? With the advanced maths courses demanding something closer to the Stanford caliber of understanding


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:37 AM
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100: Yeah, I'm just trying to keep track of all the different threads.

I wonder how well employers/grad schools actually do understand differences in rigor from one institution to the next, once you get outside the incredibly famous schools -- are there students getting screwed by low/moderate-prestige but high-rigor schools with uninflated grades, where it's not widely known that a B+ from Unpretentious U is actually a substantially, impressive accomplishment rather than meaning that you showed up. Or, I wonder if worry along those lines drives grade inflation from institutions that think of themselves as more rigorous than prestigious.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:38 AM
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Oh, just that we don't have enough students to justify a fast-track Stanford level of Cal II. You could certainly do something like that at Middling Large Landgrant U. In fact, there's often an Honors section or something similar, which is populated with incredibly bright students, and probably does offer a Stanford-level of rigor.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:42 AM
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I was in the honors section of Calc at MLLU and I'm not that bright. I got an A, but I think he gave an A to everybody.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:44 AM
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I'm pretty sure nobody got below a B+. The professor had a slide rule that we wore on his belt in a scabbard.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:47 AM
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Even aside from honors classes, large state schools usually have two calculus tracks (one for science and engineering majors, and one for social sciences). Ivy-type schools often only have one track and it's no more rigorous than the better big-state track.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:48 AM
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A few people asked above how US professors assign letter grades to students based on their numerical scores. Like Heebie, I assign numerical grades to each component and take a weighted average. But rather than the mystical 0-100 scale more commonly used, my scores for each assignment map directly to the letter grades. They, in turn, are based on the quasi-objective standards:

A = everything I would expect from a student in the target audience for the course

B = definitely qualified to go on to a subsequent course requiring this one

C = barely qualified to go on to a subsequent course

D = not qualified to go on, but accomplished something

F = might has well have not been there

(ObJoke: Student says "Professor, I don't think I deserved an F in your course." "Neither do I, but it's the lowest grade I'm able to give you...")


Posted by: DaveMB | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:48 AM
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103: I wonder about this as a Canadian in the American system. My 85 or 90s in undergrad were some of the higher marks in my classes but a) we only got multiples of 5s (just our school), and b) I went to school in the poorest province in Canada (...but less rigorous than richer provinces? Hopefully, the equalization payments worked. But the people I went to school with graduated from tiny tiny schools with no honours classes). How did my SE US PhD school think I did in undergrad?


Posted by: hydrobatidae | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:51 AM
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The advice to TAs that I've heard circulated at institutions similar to Stanford, but not Foothill College, though it may apply there, is "protect the A". That is, any other grade can seem or be the result of inflation, but keep As for things you have no doubt are As. Grading is subjective different classes have different scales etc., so there's a lot of problems following that advice, but it makes some sense.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:52 AM
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91 et al -- right, I was assuming that there's a very big difference in an A- at Foothill Community College and an A- at Stanford in roughly the same course (strictly in terms of work done, no opinion about "potential" or whatever). The question I was interested in is whether or not that justifies Stanford inflating its grades.

Seems to me that Stanford inflating its grades primarily provides an insurance policy to the bottom half of Stanford students and the overall prestige of Stanford, but at the expense of fairer assessment (since people automatically treat the Stanfords of the world as having much better students, anyway).

94 -- law is insanely grade and school obsessed as a profession. I personally have reaped the benefits in charting my path of comfortable mediocrity, but it really is ridiculous. I can think of two reasons why, (a) it's a deeply hierarchical profession that isn't very intellectually hard or difficult to do, so grade/school prestige is sort of all people have, (b) (and more reasonably) it really is hard in the abstract to judge how good a lawyer is, course especially a new one, so grades and schools become a proxy. But in the legal world they've gone from a reasonable proxy to an obscenely hypertrophied one.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:52 AM
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97: You had an Eastern European student for whom you were writing a recommendation to grad school a while ago. You said that he was unusually qualified. How were you able to evaluate that? Was he doing research? How did the professors get to see his ability?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:54 AM
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Not surprisingly, protect the A results in lots of A-s.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:55 AM
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107: U of C had a whole lot of finely calibrated tracks. IIRC, there was Calc for math majors, maybe physics majors/Calc for people in other less rigorous mathy majors/Calc for people in sciences considered non-mathy, like bio/Calc for humanities people, and similar physics tracks. No idea how transparent that was to anyone looking at a transcript.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:56 AM
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VW is of course right about democratization: I was describing the style of the upper crust of a hundred years ago to show how pervasive the indifference to grades was, even at the top. And I might add in passing that Halford's "insurance" concept represents a move back in that direction by those very schools.

Actually, the world of work was more like I described it in my second paragraph well into the 60s and beyond. Grades weren't so important because college itself wasn't absolutely necessary.

My brother, 8 1/2 years older than I am, dropped out of college to go to work when he and his girlfriend got married precipitously. He worked in the actuarial department of an insurance company. He moved into IT as that became more and more important, learning Fortran and Cobol along the way, occasionally taking a course in something related. He largely managed the PC revolution for his company, because he knew the work and he knew the systems. He was often an expert witness; he knew the business from top to bottom. He's retired now; I wonder if a career like his is possible today, in an ordinary, established business.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:57 AM
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111.3 is more fun if you read grade/school as grade school.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:58 AM
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I think the variance between classes at any of these schools is going to overwhelm the variance within classes. At least in my experience, there were some classes at CC where an A probably meant about as much as an A at UCXX but maybe not as much as an A at Puppy U, and some where it meant much less, and some where CC and UCXX are sort of on a different plane from Puppy U. The only really strong conclusion I can draw is that the median writing ability among undergrads at PU is orders of magnitude above either CC or UCXX. For lower-division quantitative courses (for non-majors) especially things seem pretty even? Maybe?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:59 AM
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103 I wonder how well employers/grad schools actually do understand differences in rigor from one institution to the next, once you get outside the incredibly famous schools

At least for grad school admissions the transcripts aren't very useful and it's mostly about what the letters say. And in some cases it's pretty revealing: there will be letters from someone at a decent but not great university that say things like "this is the best student I've seen in a decade and I expect that s/he should get into all of the best grad schools" and then the evidence for the students' greatness turns out to be the sort of thing that applies to five or ten students every year at a top school. It could be that the student is actually much better than those people, but there's not enough information to tell.

114: A large fraction of math majors and a smaller fraction of physics majors just took analysis their first year, which again was divided into a standard track and an honors track.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:00 AM
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112: The best evidence for his qualifications was that he'd had a few papers accepted to various publications, unbeknownst to me until he was actually applying. He also enjoyed submitting answers to math journals which had monthly challenge problems, and had a number of published solutions.

We basically did not offer a single course that he did not have mastery of when he arrived at Heebie U. He did some independent study courses, but basically he should have gone elsewhere for undergrad, where he could start taking grad courses.

(I did try to get him to take grad courses elsewhere, but we could never figure out the logistics since he didn't have a car.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:01 AM
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108 actually sounds like a useful way to think about things, since I have yet to get useful advice on how to assign letter grades. Thanks!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:01 AM
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Is DaveMB a new Dave to add to the collection of Daves, or an old Dave becoming even more confusing?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:06 AM
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A large fraction of math majors and a smaller fraction of physics majors just took analysis their first year, which again was divided into a standard track and an honors track.

This sort of thing makes me feel personally a bit sad. I have no idea whether or not I could have handled the math in analysis at age 18, but the confidence of the kids in those courses would have absolutely terrified me, and I would have run for the hills.

(I think I could have handled the math, but only with an instructor who was attuned to how frightening the context would have been. The odds of getting such an instructor would have been slim to none.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:07 AM
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Plus, there's no way I would have signed up for such a course without someone encouraging me, and I can't fathom a mechanism in which someone would have decided I could hack it, and encouraged me to try it out.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:12 AM
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I signed up for analysis my first year of college! (It might even have been you who told me to do it. Don't remember.) It was indeed terrifying and I dropped it. Then I switched schools, to somewhere less scary, and it was a piece of cake.


Posted by: L. | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:13 AM
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117: The difference in both the mean and the median writing quality is really astonishing. I looked over a paper once by a Nigerian guy who was taking classes at Roxbury Community college. It made me sad, because he was a pretty smart guy and had good ideas, but the paper was terrible. Someone should have been helping him. He had a low-wage job, and it seemed like he wasn't getting his money worth if he had to go into debt to take the class. (I know that "getting your money's worth" sounds very crass when talking about education.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:16 AM
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123: At the UofC they advised people on which classes to take based on an exam given to all the students during the orientation week. I don't remember much of it now, but there were a fair number of questions asking for proofs or arguments that were used to decide whether to sort people into analysis or calculus. Roughly, calculus was for people who couldn't prove things and analysis for people who could. (I feel like maybe "explain why the product of two negative numbers is positive" might have been one of the questions, or something along those lines).


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:17 AM
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I never found it difficult to write a correct proof, but the proofs I would have produced were pretty ungodly wordy and messy, so who knows.

To L., if so, sorry! But glad it worked out.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:20 AM
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It seems like if you jumped straight to Analysis, you wouldn't get the bag of tricks for solving a bunch of different kinds of integrals that Calc. I, II, III offers. I guess the assumption is that people good enough to go straight to Analysis will pick up the tricks on their own?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:20 AM
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Another problem I have with this conversation is that I really do think that (a) good writing ability (which is a teachable skill, taught at very good high schools but (my impression) not elsewhere), plus (b) an ability to bullshit overconfidently, are the most important qualification for undergrad level humanities and maybe social science classes, at least enough to be you in the B+/A- range pretty much anywhere you go as long as you do the reading. So to the extent schools are measuring those abilities, they're pretty much just measuring "are you a confident elitist who was trained to be a good writer" (this may have something to do with 117 last). And to the extent that a Stanford Freshman English class is miles ahead in terms of work produced than a Foothill Community College class, it seems like that's primarily the metric that's being measured. This problem seems much less big in more quantitative fields. But maybe this is all to jaundiced from the perspective of a self-confessed humanities bullshitter.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:21 AM
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(I mean, if I understood the math concept, the concept of how to write out the proof didn't itself present an obstacle.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:21 AM
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128: I assume they had a very rigorous Cal sequence in high school and saw that stuff. Another reason I would not have been fit for analysis.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:22 AM
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128: Well, there was some of that on the test too, so I guess if someone was good at writing proofs but really bad at integrating they might have been sorted into calculus. But I would think most people who tested into analysis learned all of that in high school. Besides, IME there's no particular reason to know a lot of those tricks.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:23 AM
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plus (b) an ability to bullshit overconfidently, are the most important qualification for undergrad level humanities and maybe social science classes

This would explain why I was so disgusted with those classes a moderately large fraction of the time.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:24 AM
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In some land grant Us, a common scheme for large lecture classed was the following:
2 standard deviations above the mean or higher = A
1 std dev above the mean or better = B
1 std dev below the mean = C
2 std devs below mean = D
Remainder = F

+/- scores were determined by dividing each range into thirds and boosting students who completed all homework assignments or attended office hours and made a good impression.

I was really surprised at the grading schemes when I TAed in grad school. In courses of 300+ students, we'd have maybe 10 Ds and 3 Fs. The small lab classes were 40% As, 60% Bs, and the lowest score in each 18 student section usually got a C. Ugh.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:26 AM
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134: Where are the people within 1 sigma of the mean?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:27 AM
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133: I remember being so amazed at how easy it was to get high grades in my four or five non-science/math classes. Clearly, I chose poorly.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:27 AM
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I'm on Hornby Island investigating grade inflation. No sign of it yet.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:29 AM
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135: I got tired of typing "or better." A C was +/- sigma as a range, sort of like like curving to a 75%. If scores were clustered too tightly, they'd transform them to a std distribution curve before doing this.

For big classes when I was in grad school, the lecturer I worked for most often curved to a 82.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:31 AM
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-like


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:33 AM
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The world is run by students within 1 sigma of the mean.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:34 AM
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111:

It's only fair to point out that I've described my experience in the big firms, but I don't always work for them.

I've spent most of the last several years in distributed networks of plaintiff's attorneys, working together on a big case they all have a piece of, under the direction of big firm plaintiffs lawyers. I'm the nominee of a local lawyer, his contribution to the case. He pays me out of pocket, but will be able to bill my hours at a much hire rate in dividing the settlement. He'll get some of it but so will I. I'm waiting for some big payouts.

In those networks, I'm a valued partner, sought after. I get a lot of validation from it, but since I have to live on what I can be advanced, I'm better off working for the big defenders, who pay better because they just bill the client.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:35 AM
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138: So 68% of students got a C and about one in six students got below a C? That seems pretty harsh.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:43 AM
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A web archives link to the chart that the U of California-Berkeley Law School used to compare grades across colleges in the '90s. I believe linked here before. Also I believe no longer in use (do to a lawsuit?).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:45 AM
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I think that should be "dew two a lawsuit".


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:50 AM
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Requiring that a certain number of Fs be given out seems cruel. I don't see why it wouldn't be good to have everyone do well enough to pass.

UC Davis law school used to require a certain number of C- or below grades in each class for 1Ls. It made the small-section "supportive" class stressful.

The policy was changed, largely because some of the younger professors who had gone to super elite schools knew that it was hurting the students in the job market.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:51 AM
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I should really read the thread before commenting, but I want to be judged on nothing but my natural ability. Grade inflation just doesn't seem like that big a deal, because the relevant information is still being communicated to employers or whoever the hell cares. An A means that the student is an acceptable average student for the institution. Bs are a red flag. Kids above the mean will get a cum laude of some sort. That's all you know, and all you need to know. If the student is going on to more school, that school will have its own ways of determining more specific qualities, whether that's the LSAT/MCAT or an interview or something else.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:58 AM
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I should really read the thread before commenting, but I want to be judged on nothing but my natural ability.

That made me smile.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:02 PM
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Dear Admissions Committee,

While Ogged's commenting record may be a matter of concern, in my opinion it does not accurately reflect his natural ability.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:14 PM
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146 -- the concern (or a concern, or my concern) is that schools inflate at different rates,with the most elite schools inflating the most, and as I demonstrated -- demonstrated, I tell you, with logic and argument, in comments that you did not read! -- this may systematically hurt kids at less fancy schools.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:16 PM
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142: Most courses I've taught (or seen distributions for when taking them) show a broad bimodal distribution with a tail for the lowest grades, not a normal curve, though, so you can't just pull the #s off a normal distribution to guess how those classes ended up. The profs would just write up the mean or median and std dev to tell you how you did on exams when they used that system. Maybe I've forgotten and it was +/- 0.5, 1.5. 2.5 or something. They did explain it the way I've described in being symmetrical for high and low scores, but maybe they fiddled with their curve to make it flatter. Also, the spread on below average grades was a lot larger than higher grades. This gives sort of a general idea. (The "relative grading method" section gives the cutoffs based on sigma after curving the scores.)

I think the most common distribution based on just using logical cutoffs was something along the lines of 15% A, 25%B, 40% C, 15% D, 5% F for courses where I saw the distributions and assignments. So, yeah, 1/5 got below a C. I'm sure it's changed since I was in college, but I figured I'd throw it in for folks who went to fancy schools.

146: It's not like we're running a meritocracy, but I suspect if everyone gets As, your connections/references/recommendations become increasingly important.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:17 PM
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Essear, what level undergrad class is it? Protect the A is good advice if it's a large class (say more than 15 students). I got an A- when I took QM. But if it's an upper level class you should feel free to give tons of A's if people are doing well. Either way, giving a quarter of the class B's is a little harsh by my recollection. I recall it being more like 20%/35%/35%/10%.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:22 PM
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Most law schools have moved to a pass/fail system, aka the most extreme form of grade inflation there is. Not UChicago though!


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:22 PM
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152 - "Most" there meaning Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, unless I'm really not up to date.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:29 PM
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Harvard isn't pass/fail quite, is it? It has three levels of passing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:34 PM
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[unfunny "joke" about "passing"]


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:35 PM
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121: I've posted at Unfogged before, always using "DaveMB" as far as I remember.

120: Glad to help. One of the few things I remember from my undergrad physics degree was the notion of "operational definition" -- a quantity is defined by the test you would use to measure it.

The distribution in the class and comparisons with prior classes are useful ways to set the scale, but I would think it unfair to guarantee in advance that the top student should get an A, or that the bottom student should get an F. Sometimes they all deserve to pass, and that is good when it happens.

I remember a class I taught on sabbatical where the best students were about half native English-speakers and half not. On my first midterm the top five scorers were all natives, on the second the top five were all not. I looked at the length of text in the questions and realized that with this group, it was for the most part up to me who did better. The incident definitely lowered my confidence in the reliability of exam scores as a measure...


Posted by: DaveMB | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:36 PM
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154 -- yeah, I think they all do. Maybe a pass-failish system? Anyhow, it's an effective form of extreme grade inflation.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:37 PM
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151: Thanks for the advice. (It's first-semester QM.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:37 PM
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If the cat dies, they get an A.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:41 PM
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0.6 |A> + 0.64 |B> + 0.48 |C>


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:44 PM
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156 -- thanks, I didn't remember you. There are so many Daves!

DaveL
DaveLMA
DaveW
David the Unfogged Commenter
Dave Weman
DaveMB

I feel like there are others.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:49 PM
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Can I change my pseud?


Posted by: DaveMA | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:51 PM
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And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn.
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face.
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate...

But she didn't do it. And now it's too late.


Posted by: Mrs. McCave | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:52 PM
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May I suggest Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:52 PM
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150.last is absolutely right, and a real pisser, because fulsome praise inflation is even more rampant than grade inflation at elite schools. I do selection for a highly sought-after scholarship; letter-writers for people from elite schools make blindingly mendacious claims of merit ("In my 30 years at Puppy U, I have had the privilege of teaching 47 students who went on to become Colonial Bloodmoney Scholars; 13 who became captains of industry; four who have won Nobel prizes; and God Himself. In natural ability, in willingness to work hard, in leadership, and in kindness to his fellow students, Candidate X leaves them all behind") ALL THE TIME. This sort of nonsense is almost totally absent in letters from CCs, lower-ranked SLACs, and midrange state schools. Letter-writers at the latter set of schools seem to be engaged in an entirely different project, one that they imagine will be advanced by praise of the form "Candidate Y was consistently on time for class."


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 12:54 PM
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I have never actually seen one of his letters but people are sort of terrified of having my adviser write a letter for them because he seems like he would be really high variance. I think this is mostly based on his talk introductions, which can veer from confusingly fulsome (wait, you actually think this weirdo who hangs around the lab and does all her slides in comic sans should have a nobel prize? In what, exactly?) to unenthusiastic in bafflingly left-field ways ("he's very... he's very creative. Nobody understands what he does or why, but that's okay").


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:04 PM
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161: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF1chLj1fro


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:05 PM
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this weirdo who hangs around the lab (CERN) and does all her slides in comic sans


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:12 PM
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I guess this is the part where I ask what you would all think if you read a recommendation letter for graduate school that said the candidate had "great confidence in his own judgment".

I'm hoping I telegraphed appropriately, but who knows.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:13 PM
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168: heh, yes, I thought of that. This woman is actually probably more famous than Fabiola Gianotti, even, if that's possible, but... I do not think she deserves a nobel prize, no.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:14 PM
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169.1: It means "asshole", right?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:16 PM
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Is this the Mike Brown thread?

From the AP story about riots in the aftermath of the shooting:

Several businesses were looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People also took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer and carted rims away from a tire store.

Now, what the hell difference does it make that the items stolen from the tire store were rims? We don't get to read what items were stolen or destroyed at any of the other businesses. And the particular targets of the looters have very little to do with the underlying incident in this case. So what possible reason could the AP have for letting us know that it was rims that were "carted away" from the tire store? Could it be that it's a racist dog whistle?
#IfTheyRiotedAfterIWasGunnedDownNobodyWouldMentionAnyGoddamnRimsThatsForSure


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:16 PM
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165: I really did mention in a med school rec letter that one of my students didn't miss a 5-days-a-week class once, because a) she was unique in that and b) it seemed like an auspicious sign for a doctor. It's probably just as well that I'll never become a professor, because I can't give that standard kind of fulsome praise to anyone in the world, not even people who deserve it.

||
My sister's pregnancy, just past halfway mark, has gone from "high risk" to "all you can do is try not to think about it"; ultrasound underway, waiting for update phone call. I can't get anything done.
|>


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:26 PM
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Christ. All good thoughts, lurid.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:29 PM
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Natilo, if you're on Twitter, the best person I've found to follow is @AntonioFrench, a local city councilman. He's tireless.

Lurid, I'm so sorry. Healing thoughts for your sister. I remember when mine had her (out-of-the-blue, no-known-risk-factors) high-risk pregnancy. So hard when there is nothing you can do. I will think good thoughts.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:30 PM
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169: "great confidence in his own judgment" is a clear sign that the person in question is insufferable and a huge pain in the ass to work with. The two people I've worked with who fit the description were both awesome at coming up with ideas both good and bad but execrable at evaluating their own ideas. Spending an hour shooting down a self-evidently stupid idea is a horrible way to waste time.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:35 PM
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Also good thoughts to lurid and her sister.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:36 PM
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173.2: That's really terrible. Very sorry to hear it.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:39 PM
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173.2 That's awful. Best to you and your sister.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:51 PM
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173.2: how awful. Please keep us posted.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:52 PM
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161: re "Daves"

Gotta collect 'em all!


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:53 PM
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121 -

Yes, that's exactly what it is Dave.


Posted by: Opinionated Papa Lazarou | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 1:55 PM
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Thanks so much, you guys. Sorry you've been through a similar ordeal, Witt -- and yeah, no one expected anything like this; one of the conditions wasn't properly diagnosed until a month ago and the other is just shit luck, and about the worst combination with the first one you could get. But... for now it's okay, stable situation, major research university hospital in town, my parents live minutes away. It's really time for the phone to make a noise now.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:03 PM
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More good thoughts for lurid and sister.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:07 PM
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And I remember DaveMB.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:09 PM
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I too remember DaveMB.

Dave, I think since the last time you dropped by, there was some commotion about two simultaneously posting DaveLs. My solution that they be DaveLA and DaveLB according to who rises first with the sun was shot down, due to DaveLA being on the east coast and DaveLB being far away from RegularLB, on the west coast. So they became DaveLMA and DaveLum (what is the second state? DaveLCA doesn't look right. Maybe he was scared off.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:14 PM
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Best wishes to you and your sister, LK.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:16 PM
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DaveLum is DaveLHI, a.k.a. the first Dave L and also (argh. I can never remember who changes their pseud for anonymity and who's just doing it for esthetics. Is it sufficiently anonymous if I say his other pseud is from Prufrock? And this is why I want everyone to have pseuds that are not derived from common first names and I want no one to change their pseud ever. In closing, I hate you all.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:21 PM
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And good luck for LK's sister.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:22 PM
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Oh right, Hawaii. I was trying all the west coast states and none of them looked right.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:24 PM
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186.last

First they came for the Dave's. And I did not speak out because my name is not Dave.

Then they came for the L's, the lw's and variations thereof...


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:25 PM
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The most important bit of advice I can give about teaching first semester QM from my experience is that you should not have an 80-minute 8 question midterm where each question takes the average student an hour.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:39 PM
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It's important to note that 192 is highly specialized advice which does not generalize apart from first semester QM courses.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:43 PM
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192: When I took QM, the midterm had a median grade of something like 7 out of 50. (The year before, it had been 3 out of 50, IIRC.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 2:51 PM
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When I took first-semester QM it was the professor's first time teaching it, and it was... wildly uneven in difficulty. One problem set or quiz would be knocked off easily, and then another would seem to be full of unsolved research questions.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 3:02 PM
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Wheee. That sounds all too easy to do. (Now I'm curious who taught the classes you guys took.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 3:09 PM
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Since people are actually trying to be reasonable on this (other then LB's strawman, and probably ogged), here are some of the grade adjustments from the link in 143:
(above 79.0 adjusted up, below 72 adjusted down)

Swarthmore: 89.5
Williams: 89.0
Duke: 88.5
Colgate, Carleton: 88.0
Johns Hopkins: 87.5
Dartmouth, Chicago: 87.0 (birds of a feather ...)
Harvard, Cornell: 86.5
Princeton: 86.0
MIT: 85.5
Virginia: 85.0 (highest public, unless I missed one)
Reed, Wm&Mary: 84.5
DFHC: 83.0
Yale: 82.5
Michigan: 81.5
Brown: 80.0
UC Berkeley, UCSD: 78.5
Wisconsin: 77.0
UCLA: 75.5
Penn St.: 74.0
The Ohio St., BYU 73.0
NYU: 72.0
USC: 70.0
Cal St.s 58.5 - 69.5 (San Diego St.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 3:10 PM
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Data as of the mid-90s.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 3:11 PM
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If I remember right it was Fis/her, but he seems to have moved.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 3:57 PM
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Which one of you drove Robin Williams to suicide?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:12 PM
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Moby.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:15 PM
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A+ for Moby.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:15 PM
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He was just up here at Hazelden doing some kind of continuing maintenance deal for alcoholism. Guess it didn't take.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:19 PM
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I feel a little bad for joking. His work wasn't to my taste, but he was clearly a talented guy, but with a lot of personal issues, and if it really was a suicide, that's a very sad way to die.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:21 PM
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Wow. Poor guy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:33 PM
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Now to watch the parade of FB friends who always deeply loved him.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:33 PM
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Whenever someone famous dies, I always suppress the same FB status, which is "Oooh! [X] is trending!"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:34 PM
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Now to watch the parade of FB friends who always deeply loved him evidence of Boomers' and Generation X's gut-shriveling terror of death. Someone you watched on television has died! YOU TOO MUST DIE! But first, this BuzzFeed/Gawker/HuffPo slideshow!


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:36 PM
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I hadn't realized that Jonathan Winters died last year. Huh.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:37 PM
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"One of the best actors ever. This hits me harder than Philip Seymour Hoffman."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:38 PM
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I totally loved his early, coked-up standup as a kid. Which is, come to it, also kind of terrible to say right now.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:46 PM
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Also he was pretty great in Death To Smoochy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:48 PM
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Really? I can't remember anything about that movie except a deep sense of loathing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:51 PM
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Re: 206

Yeah. I have the same reaction. It all seems ... Unseemly, and 'Diana'. And yet, I expect I'm a total hypocrite because I can think of a couple of celeb deaths that did affect me.*

* I was completely unexpectedly (and inexplicably to me) a bit maudlin at the death of Tony Wilson, for example.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:52 PM
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Wow, this dinner I'm cooking is a total disaster. Missing a bunch of ingredients, ran out of propane for the camping stove halfway through, finishing the rest of it somehow in the microwave. Gross.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:53 PM
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I got unexpectedly sad when I recalled yesterday that David Rakoff had died.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 4:55 PM
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lurid, I'm sorry to hear about your sister, and hope for the best.

In grad school, one of my professors (not my primary adviser, but the supervisor of a group research project I worked on for the better part of a year) told me when I asked for a reference letter that I could write my own letter and he would sign it. I decided to pass, but if I had taken him up on it, I expect that I would have had a lot of trouble hitting the appropriate level of superlatives that readers might be expecting, since I had no experience with that sort of thing. Somehow, I don't think that a relatively honest letter that said something like "solid team player, held up his end, project was ultimately cancelled due to a resource conflict with another project" would have done me much good.

Is the "write your own letter" at all common in academic circles these days? Or is it just a polite way of blowing off someone who isn't in the top 10% of the students working for you?


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:04 PM
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I am kind of sad, because I liked a lot of his stuff. And severe depression is just such a horrible thing, so I hate any suicide. And it sounds like he was actually at Rehab when he did it. My weird reaction is: that will be hard for the staff at the facility.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:06 PM
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I was pretty sad when Johnny Cash died. Of course, it was so sad to see him at June's funeral, I suppose at least it was an end to that pain. He looked like the saddest man in the world right then.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:08 PM
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Either way it's just begging to be abused.

I guess professors can be confident that students won't go too far because (1) they're going to want to maintain a relationship with that professor, or at least not gain an enemy, and (2) from what I've seen over-achievers usually end up undercutting themselves in those situations anyway.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:08 PM
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220 -> 217

(Hopefully obviously)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:10 PM
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(I think I've told this story but) when Cash died, that semester I had a student whose last name was Cash, and it seemed impossibly dumb to ask her if she was a relative but I was very curious. At the end of the semester, I finally asked; she was. "Distant 5th cousins" she said. I said "That's pretty good, to be that distant and still share the same last name."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:13 PM
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222: Sounds like an example of confirmation bias - he no doubt had lots of 5th cousins that didn't share his name, but you would never have thought to ask them.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 5:38 PM
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So, 5th cousins is you share 1 set of Great-great-great-great-grandparents, right? Almost seems more likely that she'd be related in multiple ways, going that far back, what with the tendency of rural families to intermarry more than once. My father's grandparents were from completely different parts of Denmark, yet his parents still managed to have a common cousin.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:03 PM
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||
Update: ultrasound results were not so good. I don't know what will happen, but lots of possible outcomes -- scary high-risk termination, intensive medical supervision, etc. Another round of tests, anyway. My sister is too upset to talk/text and even my super-garrulous mother hasn't written yet. Well fuck.

Thanks so much for your support, and please feel free to commence with the soothing dugongs and shit. I should go eat dinner now.
|>


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:05 PM
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223: Selection bias, not confirmation bias, no?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:11 PM
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I'm so sorry, lur key. I hope things go as smoothly as they can, whatever that means.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:11 PM
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I am so sorry to hear that, lurid. Hoping for the best.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:11 PM
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Also, I'm so sorry, LK. Awful.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:12 PM
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That's terrible news lk, I'm very sorry.

The only soothing dugong I know has a tank full of gentle cuttlefish. "Gentle aquatic mammals have all the answers."


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:14 PM
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I'm so sorry for your sister. My thoughts for her and your family.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:26 PM
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Oh no. I hope the resolution, whatever it is, is as gentle as it can be. So, so sorry that your sister and your family are facing this.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:28 PM
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I'm sorry, lurkey.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:33 PM
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225: Well, damn. Poor all of you. Was going to try to convince you to come have a drink (would love to meet you), but it sounds like the kind of day that ends in curling up at home and having a stiff drink.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 6:39 PM
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No, lourdes k. is totally going to come and meet you! But I am not, because I'll probably want to catch up with my mom. And maybe interface with the forlorn bottle of moscatel in the cabinet, depending on how bad I'm willing to feel tomorrow morning.

I kind of take issue with the idea that P/F grading is "the ultimate grade inflation." Maybe in a technical sense, but in terms of the evil of making everyone look excellent when they're not, no. I can't think of a humanities class I taught* where the grades were conveying really significant information about students' relative strengths; I could see a scenario pretty easily where only majors take those classes for letter grades (and that grading scale would be pretty demanding). I have now deleted my snarky remark about the value of writing a really, really good Western Civ paper.

*n=5


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:17 PM
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Late to the game, but my sympathies, lk.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:30 PM
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How awful. I hope the outcome is better than current signs would indicate.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 7:32 PM
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Okay, last update: I finally got through to my mother and she gave me a much more hopeful picture of things. My sister's in worst-case-scenario-land regarding the ultrasound, but the doctors were more optimistic, and one of the scary conditions has spontaneously resolved itself, thanks to what I assume were heebie and Thorn's intercessory prayers. So I think it's now back to just high risk rather than total nightmare.

In conclusion, no communication can be better than limited, freaked-out partial communication; thanks / sorry everyone.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:11 PM
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Glad to hear that, lk.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:13 PM
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Re: 217

Exactly the same thing happened to me. A dick move I think, as it's impossible to be sufficiently hyperbolic, as you say.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 10:51 PM
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Best wishes for your sister's situation.

Sadly, if things go worse, I have a lot of precise and practical advice for the next few days and months (the clinics that will do a termination that late, L&D vs D&E, turn off Facebook immediately, the useful online forums, that sort of thing). LB can put you in touch with me if you like.

I don't know if this is comforting, but most of the people on the forums agree that the period between diagnosis and termination (and waiting for diagnosis) is the single worst part. Worse even than the grief right after. We are hoping for the best, but if the pregnancy must end and she has similar reactions as most, the aftermath and grief will not get worse than the next days. Slim comfort, but maybe knowing this is as bad as it will be is some small help.


Posted by: Anon for this one | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:02 PM
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Thanks so much, Anon. I thought of you today, and was glad you inspired me to give money to NARAL.

I would say more but am exhausted... I want to wish you either peace or healing, but that seems so anodyne, when it must still hurt so fucking much. Maybe just wisdom. It's really kind of you to come here and share advice. I'll let you know if I need anything more (in a week or so). Take care.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-11-14 11:41 PM
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Harsh grading makes sense when college is cheap and not so hyperselective at the front end.

This is true, and not just in a cynical sense. The fact is that the students at elite schools really are that much smarter than they used to be. As late as the 1960s, Yale was admitting 90% of alumni children who applied. There was a substantial proportion of students who really didn't belong there - and it was still possible to flunk out, which almost never happens anymore. Harvard used to explicitly justify its preferential treatment of legacies with the argument that you needed a decent population of dolts who wouldn't get all upset at not getting A's: the phrase "the happy bottom quarter" appears in an administration memo on the topic.

I won't defend pervasive grade inflation at less selective schools, but I am really unconcerned about it in the Ivies and their ilk: thanks to hyperselective admissions, the 60% of the student body that is neither varsity athletes nor legacies is phenomenally capable.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 4:37 AM
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Most courses I've taught (or seen distributions for when taking them) show a broad bimodal distribution with a tail for the lowest grades, not a normal curve, though, so you can't just pull the #s off a normal distribution to guess how those classes ended up.

Not coincidentally, this is approximately the shape of the distribution you see in industrial quality control when you measure something after an inspection that attempts to eliminate the units that fall below a certain threshold. If the college admissions committee is enforcing a minimum standard, you should see the same thing in college grades. A corollary is that an open admissions community college should see performance that more closely resembles a normal distribution.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 4:51 AM
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Having just read the rest of the thread, best wishes to Lurid K.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 4:56 AM
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246

188, 163

I'd be willing to change my pseud to make LizardBreath happy (except for changing pseuds not making her happy -- a paradox!), especially given all the great suggestions in 163.

(Another good source for pseuds is obscure Saints a la Gene Wolfe in The Book of the New Sun.)


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 5:37 AM
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thanks to hyperselective admissions, the 60% of the student body that is neither varsity athletes nor legacies is phenomenally capable.

So you'll eat your Ds and you'll like it, proles.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 7:17 AM
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The Phenomenonally Capable Fuckcunts of America.

Somewhere David Halberstam let out a hollow, sepulchral laugh.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-12-14 7:20 AM
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