For a few years the internet has circulated a story about a professor who equalizes grades in his class so that everyone receives a C.   The A students complain and the F students are happy.  A couple of weeks ago I decided to conduct a small experiment in that vein.

Roughly 120 students took my economics exam, with 12 A’s and 12 people who failed miserably.  I emailed the A students and told them that I was “considering” taking 20% of their points and giving them to the lower-graded students so that everyone would get a C in the class.  I sent a similar email to the failing students, informing them of this scheme that would rob points from the achievers and magically give them a C score.  I waited for the return emails to pour in, and pour in they did.

Predictably the A students were upset and urged me not to adopt such a plan.  Their sentiment was summarized best by one student that wrote: I do not agree with this grade equalization adjustment. I studied very hard for this exam, and I feel that any student who puts time into the material can also do just as well as the rest of us. I am a sophomore with a 4.0. I would like to keep it that way — I have worked hard.”

It became apparent that this “grade socialism” would have a detrimental effect on the lives of some students, as indicated by this response:  I would greatly appreciate you not going through with this idea. If I stick with my current major, I may choose to transfer to the Carlson School of Management. I am a transfer student from U of M Twin Cities College of Biological Sciences; many of my friends are in CSOM, and I know how much being in that college and having the opportunities so readily available there can help with my future. Getting a C in this class will make that impossible.”

Perhaps the greatest surprise was the response of those who failed the exam.  Even those at the bottom of the grade scale didn’t like the concept of “grade socialism”.  One student wrote: I would never want to take away someones grade that they worked hard for just for the benefit of mine. It was my fault that I did not fully understand the material. Thank you for the opportunity though.”

Another failing student wrote:  I don’t really see how that would be fair. If people with higher grades are being forced to “spread the wealth”, it would seem like their hard work isn’t paying off. Eventually, I would think that the people who are getting higher grades would stop working for those grades because no matter how hard they work or how smart they are, they aren’t getting anything out of it.”

Frankly I am at least as proud of the failing students as I am of the A students.  Those at the lower end of the grade scale felt guilty taking points they didn’t earn from the A students.  Maybe there is hope for America’s future!

There was one argument that I didn’t get in these emails.  I thought for sure that one of the lower graded students would say something like:  “Professor, you don’t need to take points away from the A students; after all, you have an infinite number of points.  Just print up more points and give them to us at the lower end; the points don’t cost you anything.”  Ah….yes.  The Federal Reserve in action!

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