# What proportion of course material mastery should we consider is "passing?" [closed]

What proportion of course material mastery should we consider is "passing?"

In the US a typical grading rubric is A = 90%-100% B = 80%-89% C = 70%-79% D = 60%-69% F = below 59%

As a professor I often curve the numerical range of grades in my course, and depending on the class, the raw score for a passing grade might end up being even lower than 50%. My question is, at what point does this stop?

A professor could decide that mastery of only 15% of the course material is "passing" because a curve can make 15% into any number. If the professor writes and grades the test he or she could also just decide to only teach and test over 15% of the actual syllabus. In each case students are happy, administrators are happy, etc. because of the "nice grade distribution." But it seems a bit disingenuous to say that a student who learned only 15% of the course material actually passed.

I've heard that accreditation boards have various requirements for a university to maintain its accreditation. For instance, students have to pass enough courses or their major. But is there any accountability for the students to actually learn a minimum amount of material? It seems that everyone in a university could agree that the only requirement to pass a class and graduate is that the student pays tuition. Obviously this is would be big disservice to society. But what incentives do professors have (other than moral ones) not just teach less, and pass more students?

• You're assuming that a grad of 15% represents a mastery of only 15% of the material. In my experience, the two are often not that related.
– Ric
Dec 2 '15 at 17:39
• Elaboration of previous comment: At one extreme, you could have your exam consist purely of Putnam (NB: a national math contest on which the median score is 1/120) style questions based on the material in your class. Someone who manages a grade of 5% has probably (though not certainly) mastered 95% of the class material. At the other extreme, your exam questions might only ask students to recall the simplest facts in the subject, and 100% on the exam might only reflect mastery of the easiest 5% of the material. Dec 2 '15 at 18:28
• The relationship between grades and mastery is really much, much weaker than the one you're assuming. And, as odd as it seems, even professors, in most --if not all -- cases, don't have a 100% mastery of what they're teaching. Dec 2 '15 at 18:37
• As an undergrad I had a 30% average for an honors physics course. That was an A - the professor intentionally set very hard problems, since the value was in seeing how students wrestled with them rather than getting a correct final answer. Dec 2 '15 at 21:32
• My PhD supervisor always liked to quip that the best way to learn a subject was to teach it. Dec 2 '15 at 22:06