I struggled with Elbow’s piece because, for me, ranking is necessary in the world we live in. Like Elbow points out, we are expected (at least at Queens) to produce some form of ranked grade at the end of the semester for the student. While I agree with his thoughts on the constraints of ranking, I struggle with his urge to place it as ranking or evaluation. For me, ranking can be an evaluation similar to the way Elbow describes. Evaluation comes in through those detailed comments English professors all seem to leave on papers, coaching the student through their essay, serving as both critic and cheerleader. In turn, the ranking can be based on the evaluation through the use of a detailed rubric, where the emphasis is placed on the ideas the student is producing. Yes, for Elbow, a rubric is just a form of ranking, but I believe there is a difference between absentmindedly assigning grades and determining what each grade means to the teacher and what the student needs to do to accomplish that. For me, evaluation and ranking should go together.
Take Cynthia from Anston’s article. She ranked the essay without providing real evaluation. If she were able to rely on evaluative reasons for the grade, Jonas would not have been able to challenge her so blatantly. Further, a reliance on a rubric would also allow Cynthia to remove her ideology from the grading process, focusing on the performance Jonas is giving over the blatant racism in that text. If she were to come across ideas that she didn’t agree with, Cynthia could use marginal comments to question what exactly Jason means or ask him to explain further for a clearer statement. Ultimately, he followed the general assignment and took a stance on a problem. I don’t believe you can fail someone for being racist or sexist; you can work to find what’s wrong in the argument or how the paper fails to achieve the assignment appropriately. Granted, your ultimate grade will be affected by an inherent bias (as briefly discussed in the Young article). If the desire is to remove that form of communication from the classroom, it would be more beneficial to sign a contract at the beginning of class; not a grade contract, but a code of conduct that forces the students to come to a standard agreement of acceptable behavior for the classroom. (Here’s a link to MIT’s difference between explicit and implicit classroom contracts. http://tll.mit.edu/help/explicit-and-implicit-contracts-classroom).
To end this post, I want to return back to the concept of grading and talk a bit about Young’s article. One of the major themes the educators were presenting was that grading is extremely difficult to do free of biases. Which, I agree, as I was grading my first papers, I had to fight the urge to give students who try really hard in class better grades on their papers in their deserve. However, I participated in grade inflation (as defined by these educators) because of me wanting these students to succeed. While I think classifying student revisions as grade inflation problematic, I understand where it comes from. I allowed students to revise so they wouldn’t have an F on their first paper. So, I guess my major struggles would be: is revision inflation? Can we find a happy medium between ranking and evaluation? And can that happy medium help educators defend themselves against student backlash against grades?