This is the first semester we’re using A, B, C, D and even E (and F for fail) as grades in Norway, and the national guidelines for what the grades are supposed to mean are now available, even in English, if you scroll to the bottom. There’s a more specific description available for technological subjects (Norwegian only) which is striking in its low expectations: to get a D (which 20% of the students are supposed to be awarded, strictly speaking) requires the following: “Lacking overview of the most important parts of the curriculum. Can’t use knowledge independently.” Should a person who hasn’t even got a vague notion of the most important parts of the curriculum really be passing at all? The description for health and social subjects (nursing, medicine, social workers and so on) is terrifying: you pass with a D if you show “limited knowledge” and can “to a certain degree use knowledge safely in patient situations.”

Probably every university’s corridors sometimes hear the whispered horror of that story of the professor who felt sorry for the candidate and gave him or her a pass despite having doubts. The next year, the candidate was the professor’s daughter’s English teacher (or doctor to scare you even more).

9 thoughts on “ABCDEF

  1. Alex

    Those descriptions are roughly equivalent to the ones found in many US course catalogs. The truth is that it is extremely difficult to give an F, and that the D really means that they showed up more than once to class. Many students *expect* an A. I can’t tell you how many have come to my office and said “I did everything you asked, why didn’t I get an A,” meaning simply that they completed the assignments and exams, not that they had done well on them. In an average class, my median grade is a mid- or low-B, and I am considered a strict grader.

    I very much like the (English version at least) of the Norwegian scale, in that it recognizes degrees of “independence.” This is a very interesting idea, and one I haven’t seen before. I wonder how it translates into practice.

  2. Elin

    What do you mean “20 % supposed to be awarded”…. how many are supposed to be awarded the other grades? What if, out of 10 students, you get 8 brilliant ones, and two failures?

    Curious…

  3. Jill

    Ah, yes, that’s why those Gauss curves (isn’t that what they’re called?) don’t work. I think the grades are supposed to more or less be distributed according to those percentages if you look at a very large sample (all 17000 students at the university, for instance) but it doesn’t work at all in a normal classroom group, and nobody expects it to either. At least not round here, maybe they do some places.

  4. Jamie

    It is interesting that the guidelines you use deal so much with independance. The ones I am told to use (Section 17.1 (Grade Scale and Definitions) near
    http://www.registrar.dal.ca/calendar/ug/ACRG.htm#ACRG39)
    deal with knowledge of the material and synthesis of ideas.

    I am glad your first class went well. I’m sure it bodes well for the rest of the semester.

  5. Jamie

    I am so happy with my students!

    The students in my faculty asked, through meeting with their elected representatives, for the teachers to tighten our grading. They think that we (the profs) `give’ too many A and B grades. Statistically it seems that we are out of sync with some other faculties and are working on ways of reporting more accurate grades.

    (I still find that many of the students in my optional final year course earned A grades.)

  6. Jill

    It’s interesting to see how the Norwegian focus on “using knowledge independently” is quite unusual, globally. Perhaps it’s just a question of wording, translation of a Norwegian word (selvstendig) that might have a slightly different cultural meaning as well as cultural understandings of independence?

    I think what is meant here by independence is that students are able to apply what they have learnt and not just repeat it back unprocessed. The wider meaning of independent thought is of course that they don’t accept blindly what they are told but think critically, and in my mind that is one of the main goals of an education in the liberal arts. It’s also one that I’ve experienced as being emphasised in my own university education.

    At first I was surprised to realise that “independence” is more emphasised here than elsewhere, because Norway is such a very egalitarian culture in most other ways. This is good for things like equal rights and a functional welfare system but can be very oppressive in its “don’t think you’re worth anything” aspect. (See Janteloven, a law that still carries much force in Scandinavia…)

    On the other hand, I’ve been suspecting recently that along with this sometimes oppressive everyone-is-as-bad-as-everyone-else mentality we Scandinavians seem to be very strongly drawn to conflict. My impression of “independent thought” after a few years of university, was that independent thought meant you should find someone to disagree with, quote him or her extensively and tear their arguments apart, often out of context. When I was a student (and I finished my MA all of four and a half years ago) the only thing students in the arts faculty produced was traditional essays, so independence in the FORM of what you wrote was out of the question. So perhaps independence means quarrelsomeness?

    It’s useful to think about what we’re actually trying to grade, anyway.

  7. Norman

    As a student in the 60s, one of my major pleasures was developing an opposing line to that of the lecturers. I did it only when I genuinely held a different view, and [provided you were able to develop a sound argument] they too could be quite enthusiastic about the challenge.
    One might quibble about when and where the slide into mediocrity began; but, in Australian Humanities and Social Science Faculties at least, the current “academic” scene sees increasingly large numbers of students who simply expect a piece of paper as their “right”, and lecturers who are dedicated to fulfilling this expectation. Many may bemoan privately what’s happening; but few are game to express their feelings openly — and in light of what happens to “whistleblowers”, who can blame them?

  8. Blog de Halavais

    Independent A
    Jill posts a note about the switch to a lettered grading system in Norway, and links to a description of…

  9. v i t i a

    How Not to Teach Writing
    I feel like there’s been an odd intersection among my Gibson-Graham readings about feminism and capitalism and what I’ve been reading online about grading and about “>the intersection of feminism, family, and academia and about “>the gendered nature of…

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