I was chatting with a HS student the other day, and they told me that they'd been learning about normal curves in math, and the math teacher had told them to be prepared because in college their work would be graded on a curve. The student was really worried about the idea of being graded on a curve, so they asked me if I grade on a curve.
I don't. I doubt many humanities types do.
And, to be honest, I think there's been a change in approach, and not many of my colleagues at NWU do, not in the sciences, social sciences, or business areas grade on a curve, either.
I'm pretty sure folks at super elite schools never graded on a curve in the sciences. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't imagine chem profs at Harvard thinking that half their students should get Cs or below, not in recent history, anyway.
When I was an undergrad, my big science and math sorts of courses were graded on a curve, or at least we were told they were. I remember a chem test where the median score was 86/100, and that was a C. And I was terrified and horrified.
The attitude at my undergrad school (a then smallish public R1 known for ag/science) seemed to be that first and second year chem, calc, physics, and bio type courses were "weeders," and were supposed to make students who weren't going to get into vet or med school rethink their career goals earlier rather than later, and change majors to something else.
And that's one place where I think professorial attitudes have changed. I think now, my science colleagues think that it's their job to help their students succeed rather than to weed them out. The courses are still tough, and students fail, but my colleagues don't talk about weeding students, but rather figuring out how to help students.
The other place I'd say attitudes are different here (but I don't know if they've changed), is that we worry a whole lot about retention and graduation rates. Did my undergrad institution worry about retention back then? I don't know. But we do here.
We do lose students who decide they aren't getting into our nursing program, especially, since we can serve way fewer students than wish to be nursing majors; they go elsewhere to study nursing, often. (If we could afford to hire more nursing faculty, we could easily double the major with no real difference in student quality; the entry is that tough.)
What about you? Do you folks grade on a curve?
What are attitudes at your school about grading on a curve?