Working Papers

The Interaction of Effort and Ability
in Grades at a Japanese University

R. Jeffrey Blair
contact information
Aichi Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan

http:// / ~jeffreyb / research / wikiatsuta.html
rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]

abstract here

        More than a decade ago at the end of my first term at Aichi Gakuin University, I sent an e-mail out to college and graduste school friends soliciting their opinions to an age-old grading delemma in the teaching profession: how to combine two quite distinct dimensions of a student's performance--effort and ability--into a single grade or score, hopefully in some principled way. I received about a dozen replies--some with detailed information about their own solutions to the problem, some asking for more information about my teaching situation, all of them interesting food for thought.
        I will begin with background on the classes I have been teaching in order to put later discussion into context. Most of my teaching has been in the English Communication Department of the Junior College Division, where I teach English as a foreign language without any specific purpose in mind. I teach speaking, reading, and a seminar class that involves a reseach project. All the classes I have been teaching are general conversation classes at a rather basic level, which emphasize small group discussions on an assigned topic or an assigned reading. My other classes, in the four and six-year departments of the university, have followed a similar pattern, the only difference being that the readings and discussion in my dental and pharmacy classes focus on medical topics.

        The students are false beginners. All have studied English for six years in junior high and high school. And although many read and write fairly well, most are reluctant to speak in English and speak very haltingly when they do so. Almost all of my students in the Junior College Division are 18-20 year-old females with dreams of meeting and talking to foreigners in various contexts, including professional (ground hostess, hotel work, and jobs at Tokyo Disneyland), but more often simply as visitors or language students in foreign countries.
        The vast majority will get jobs after graduation, jobs in Japan that will usually not involve using conversational English except in very routine situations. In any case, the students' grades in English class will not be used to measure their English ability for any specific job. The Japanese companies that hire them would test it using their own employment tests or standardized English tests--similar to the TOEFL test--given in Japan and, perhaps supplemented with an interview. In other words, the grades I give my students have little effect outside of their immediate academic environment. The vast majority of the classes I teach are required. If they fail one they have to repeat it. That may, but does not usually, set their academic career back a year.

It seems that for medical doctors, engineers, and traffic controlers there is not much interaction in terms of a trade-off between effort and ability. You've got to have a certain level of ability, and no amount of extra effort will adequately replace a lack of ability.

What was your solution? Did you find it to be satisfactory? If you were asked to justify it, could you? How? Or are all such solutions simply arbitrary decisions that have to be made? If you haven't faced the problem yet, I'd like to ask you to take a few minutes to think about it.


Grading Scales


Operational Definitions of Effort and Ability


Role of Effort


Traditional Arithmetic Model


Geometric Model


Returning to the Student




        I would like to express my sincere thanks to Rik Smoody for valuable critical comments on earlier drafts. Not all of the advice received was necessarily heeded, however, and I retain full responsibility for the final product.

Points of Contact

        Any comments on this article will be welcomed and should be mailed to the author at Aichi Gakuin University, Junior College Division, 1-100 Kusumoto-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, Japan 456-0037 or e-mailed to him. Other papers and works in progress may be accessed at http:// ~jeffreyb/ research/ index.html .


Cobb, Loren (2006). Population Implosion. The Quaker Economist, 149. Posted at http:// www. quaker. org/ tqe/ 2006/ TQE149- EN- Population.html .

Coutts, David (n.d.). Reverend Thomas Malthus--An Atheist View. 6 Billion--The Game of the New Millennium. Posted at http:// members. optusnet. bnbg 6billion/ 6billion_ Malthus.htm .

Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W.W. Norton .

Gitlin, Jonathan (2006). Carbon on Ice. Nobel Intent. Posted at http:// arstechnica. com/ journals/ science. ars/ 2006/ 9/ 5/ 5200 .

Holbach, Robert (n.d.). Population Density and Genocide. Hidden Agendas. Posted at http:// www. hidden agendas. org. uk/ index. php? option= com_content& task=view& id= 65& Itemid= 27 .

John W (2006). Untitled. Hit and Run. Posted at http:// www. xanga. com/ HitAndRun .

Lee, Xah (2003/2006). Population Under the Firmament. . Posted at http:// xahlee. org/ Periodic_ dosage_ dir/ 20030911_ populous.html .

Unknown (2005). Malthusian Catastrophe Examples. Google Answers. Posted at http:// answers. google. com/ answers/ threadview? id= 582567 .

Wales, J. et al. (Eds., 2006a). World population. Wikipedia. Posted at http:// en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ World_ population .

Wales, J. et al. (Eds., 2006b). Olduvai theory. Wikipedia. Posted at http:// en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Olduvai_ theory .

Wales, J. et al. (Eds., 2006c). Sub-replacement fertility. Wikipedia. Posted at http:// en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Sub-replacement_fertility .

Working Papers