Notorious CMC: F for effort

Notorious CMC: F for effort

Every class is designed to teach students a particular subject, and one’s grade in a class should reflect their understanding of the material. However, this is not exactly the case in classes like English, social science and foreign language. These courses commonly include a category like “projects” or “tests, quizzes, and projects” in the grading scale which introduce an irrelevant variable into students’ grades: artistic ability.

Teachers often assign projects to enrich students’ understanding of the material and liven up the classroom with hands-on experience. Supposedly, when they assign grades, they disregard students’ artistic abilities, claiming that you only need to “do your best.” However, the art grade always lies hidden in “effort” and “neatness” on the rubric of every project. I doubt that any teacher can accurately discern the effort any student puts into their work–after all, it’s much harder for someone who’s bad at art to produce a neat drawing compared to a talented artist..

While researching for this column, I asked several teachers to give “effort” grades to projects of varying art and writing quality. Measured on a 10-point scale, the results showed that “effort” grades dropped an average of 1.5 points when coupled with bad art and rose 1 point with good art. Although both artists took a full 10 minutes to draw their pieces, the discrepancy between their quality is what lowered the less skilled artist’s grade. While this sample size may not be large enough to draw broad conclusions, the correlation between art quality and perception of effort was undeniable. It’s nigh-impossible to tell, just by looking, how long it took for the drawing to be produced and to use such an inaccurate metric as an important factor in students’ grades is completely irrational.

Furthermore, when the artistically inclined put in comparable effort to those who aren’t naturally artistic, their work sets an unrealistic standard for what students can be expected to produce. Even teachers who don’t expect comparable quality from other students leave visually appealing projects hanging on their walls or present them as examples of “what an A looks like,” causing others to spend a disproportionate amount of effort trying to meet that supposed standard.

Another common issue in art-based assignments is access to materials. Many students don’t own paint or cardstock–or, if they do, they’re of poor quality and limited quantity. When students have to submit a colored or painted project, materials become an incredibly important factor in the quality and “neatness” of their work.

While teachers often encourage their pupils to be creative with what they have, there are limits to what one can produce with sparse materials. And though the school may provide some supplies, when you’re asked to make a model of an atom, colored pencils aren’t getting anyone very far. Between fashioning a paper mache mask in two hours or buying a $15 one from the craft store, most will pick the latter–and not every student has that luxury.

Of course, those with extremely limited access to materials who truly cannot afford any supplies can talk to their teacher, but few are at such a level. Furthermore, many of those who are don’t want to face the shame, or would prefer to be able to participate in the project even if it results in a bad grade. 

It may have been acceptable to consider art as a factor in students’ grades if every student was instructed in art throughout high school, or even if art were a necessary skill in the professional world, but the reality is that it’s an irrelevant skill and an unfair metric to include in students’ grades for other subjects, whether purposefully or not.