Website Publishes Professors’ Past Grades

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Pick-A-Prof, one of the numerous websites providing student reviews of professors, publishes the grading histories/practices of professors for many of the 170 schools it covers. Obviously, many schools do not provide this data willingly, but Pick-A-Prof’s believes such data is a public record, thus forcing some public institutions to fork it over. Sometimes, lawyers are needed as attitude-adjusters. See the story about its lawsuit against UC Davis, which just last month concluded favorably for Pick-A-Prof when UC Davis relented.

Should we simply put this in the “more-information-is-better” category? Unquestionably, this information is highly relevant and interesting to students picking among courses. Further, it’s existed in some limited fashion forever–certain professors get a reputation for being easy or hard graders, and these impressionistic reputations will be replaced by hard data.

However, will students use past grading data wisely to improve their decision-making? There are plenty of reasons to believe they will not. Instead, there remains significant concern that students will flock to the easy-grading professors, regardless of pedagogical merit, while tougher professors either will have their enrollments suffer or, worse, will change/lighten up their grading standards as a marketing ploy to prop up course enrollments or to win popularity contests.

To be clear, I’ve routinely published my own grading data (for example, see the 11 years worth of exam writeups for my Cyberlaw course), so I’m not philosophically opposed to the public availability of this data. However, to the extent that democratized grading information contributes to students viewing a course simply as an economic transaction to acquire a grade, I think we all suffer.