Originally Posted by Yachtzee
While I agree with you to a certain degree, I think the use of a curve to rectify issues caused by sub-par instruction should be the exception rather than the rule. I think that too often the curve is used to hide inadequacies in the education system. If a teacher hands out grades in a bell-curve distribution, you can't tell that there was anything wrong with the class based on student performance. With straight grading, if too many people are getting an A, you might question whether the current lesson plan doesn't sufficiently challenge the students. If there are too many low grades, you might argue that the material is too hard or that the teacher did a poor job. In either case, the fact that the grade distribution looks odd gives the administration reason to investigate further.
I say that, rather than taking the lazy route and curving everyone to get that bell-shaped distribution, teachers, administrators, and schools should work to improve the lesson plans to come to that distribution naturally. If students aren't allowed to cheat, why should schools be allowed to do so?
I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't agree with penalizing students with a bad grade if the bad grade is truly not of their own making. It shouldn't be an odd grade distribution that causes alarm, it should be the size of the curve that does. The same effect is produced, but the students do not pay with a bad grade on their transcripts due to the unfortunate circumstance of taking a course with a professor with poor teaching methods.
I completely agree that curves should not be used to hide inadequacies in the education system. In my own example, you would have thought that a course whereby a group of seemingly intelligent students somehow managed to pull a 37% in a mid-level economics course would have set off red flags throughout the department. However, a friend of mine had the same professor for the class the following year, with no apparent change in curriculum or teaching style. I personally found it deplorable.