May 18, 2009

a call for grading reform

In the pages of the vaunted Onion A.V. Club blog, noted educational theorist Josh Modell provides one of the best possible arguments for grading reform.
Letter grades are relative, and nowhere on the site (or in our reviewers' minds, I don't think) does an A or A- mean that a movie (or CD or book or videogame) is one of the best ever made. I certainly don't believe that Crank 2 is one of the best movies ever made. But what that A- did signify, and what I think high grades on The A.V. Club generally signify, is success. In my eyes (and in the eyes of Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias, who both enjoyed Crank 2), the movie was successful at what it was trying to be: weird, almost parodic, and over-the-top. Those seemed to be its goals, and it delivered. It was certainly never boring or cliched, and much of the time it was actually pretty incredible. For people who like these types of movies (and I can think of very few analogs for this particular movie), Crank 2 was pretty great. So what grade do you give to a movie that you think is highly entertaining and successful but exists in a genre that's not allowed a high grade?

That gets into what I like to think of as "genre profiling." You haven't seen the movie, and yet you know it's not possible that it deserves an A-. To some degree I agree with you: Action movies (even outliers like this one) are, by definition, incapable of being among the greatest films of all time. And that's fine, but it's a bit unfair to ghettoize them so much that an A (or even a B) grade is off the table. It's like deciding that the fat kid in gym class couldn't possibly do better than a B-, and then grading him accordingly. (What if he's a phenomenal goalie?) All of our writers understand--and I think our readers are sharp enough to understand--that Crank 2 isn't even in the same universe of greatness as The Godfather or (insert your all-time fave here).

It's true that A or A- grades in film are pretty rare at The A.V. Club, and I appreciate that that makes them more trustworthy. What I tell the music writers is that if something is getting an A or A-, it should be one of their personal favorites--top 10, if not higher--of the year. Crank 2 could very well end up one of my favorite movies of 2009. (And no, I'm not some sort of action junkie--my faves of last year were Synecdoche NY, Ballast, Snow Angels, Dear Zachary, and Wendy & Lucy, and I think this year's action hit, Taken, is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It got a C-.)
By now you've guessed that Modell isn't actually an educational theorist. Which is too bad.

1 comment:

Ellen Rice said...

What would it take to have a Consumers Report for public education? I can find out the repair rate for my Maytag washer or the taste test results for a dozen brands of vanilla ice cream -- but to find out who is a great teacher and what is a strong class is very challenging. Kids talk about their teachers (a lot) but it's hard to sort out who is popular from who is effective.
Hardest of all is hearing that a particular class is a black hole of misery and having no way to avoid the situation. It's like being forced to buy a Yugo when you know a Lexus is just down the corridor. . .