Fellow Cliopatriarch Jonathan Dresner makes a good point about learning and time:
One thought which didn't make it into the article is that student evaluations and student learning assessments both assume that learning is a short-term process, that a student can judge at the end of a semester what impact a teacher has had, and that what a student learns over a semester is best evaluated at the end of the semester.
This prompted me to think a bit more about my earlier entry on the familiar plaint, "But I worked so hard." One of the difficulties faced by anyone who teaches writing, for example, is that a student simply cannot master academic writing in the space of a single semester in freshman composition. Because comp is a skills course, rather than a content course, it's certainly possible for a student to make drastic progress; when I teach comp, for example, I can reasonably expect that, at the end of the semester, many students will have moved up at least a full grade--sometimes, 1 1/2 grades or even 2 grades--from their initial performance. But, without extensive additional practice, all of that progress will fly out the window.
That "initial performance," however, is the corker. Many students are convinced that the only proper fruit of "hard work" is an A. Yet a student who enters freshman comp with only the most basic of skills may find that it takes a herculean effort just to achieve a solid C. Moreover, under those circumstances, a solid C is not an insult, but a sign of achievement! When pressed, I occasionally tell individual students about my experience in a year-long science course which included a quarter of calculus and two quarters of physics and chemistry. One problem: my mathematics skills are average (at best, with a lot of work) and my physics and chemistry skills are...well, they weren't and aren't. And my last math class? Junior year in high school. To survive that year with a "pass," I had to invest more study time (and regular tutoring sessions) in those courses than in any I was taking in my major. Along the way, I managed to fail at least one exam. While I ultimately did rather well in calc, I got something in the C range in the other two. Given my previous preparation and abilities, that was the most that my "hard work" was going to achieve. Now, obviously, literature courses aren't as difficult as physics, but let's consider the case of a student who begins the semester reading prose (not poetry!) at the most basic of levels and writing only simple sentences. That student will likely end the semester with a C+ at best, even with the hardest of hard work. But, if that student is willing to expend such labor over the course of several semesters, s/he could well become a competent or more than competent reader and writer. That presumes, however, that the student can be persuaded to see individual courses as stepping stones towards a larger goal of intellectual development, rather than as segregated units with no cumulative purpose.