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Friday, December 16, 2005

Failure, Secret Grades, and Incentives Matter

Since it's the end of the semester, I'm still dealing with grading exams (one full-blown one to grade and one multiple choice one to give and grade). So, I figure it's only a half-dozen more hours or so to go.

In the meanwhile, here's a good grade-related piece from BusinessWeek Online. It turns out that many of the top business grad schools either don't disclose students' grades or give the students the option of disclosing or not.

The practice started during the dot-com boom when students had their pick of jobs even without disclosing grades. Now, it gets rationalized in the usual ways - "it saves them from stigma", "it allows them to experiment without penalizing them", and so on.

The interesting thing to me is the unexpected effect that the policy has on performance - in cross-listed classes (those where both undergrads and grads can register), the undergrads often outperform the grads. Not too surprising - remove the sting of failure, and there will less effort on the part of the students.

So once again, incentives matter. Or, as Spenser (the Robert Parker detective) used to say, "Without death there is no beauty".

HT: Division of Labour

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