Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Final Grading Misery

Minutes between the time I revealed final grades on the LMS and the time not one, but two, grade complaints landed in my inbox: <20

Percentage of those complaints that ignore information about grading prominently available on the syllabus, and recently alluded to in an end-of-the-semester email: 100%

When I will answer said emails: some time tomorrow. I'm going to bed now.

Aargh.  It wasn't a bad term, really.  Most of them did good work; a significant number of them did very good work.  But I am very, very tired of explaining why satisfactory completion of lightly-graded ancillary tasks does not magically turn B work on core assignments (the grades for which they don't, interestingly, question)  into an A in the class.

The syllabus does say that participation will be graded on a curve, with the median at B.  Also, I checked to make sure that enforcing this policy as written wasn't dragging anybody's grade below the level of their major written assignments.  It wasn't.  I could, of course, lower the weight of the ancillary assignments relative to the final grade, which would probably decrease the tendency to put too much hope in them as final-grade-lifters, but then they might not take them seriously.   

Or I could grade every little ancillary task on a formal scale, holding to the "satisfactory=B" line each time.    That might in some ways be clearer, and thus fairer, but it would be time-consuming, and  I'd be answering "why did I lose points on x" emails all semester long.  The idea that a student didn't lose points, (s)he just did work at the B level, rather than somewhere above that, is very, very hard to get across.  Answering the complaint emails at the end of the semester may just be a worthwhile tradeoff for getting to concentrate on more substantive matters during the rest of the term.  Maybe.  I'll sleep on it.

Update, c. 12 hours later: of the six grading complaint/inquiry emails I now have in my inbox, all are from students who earned a B+. Maybe I should just stop awarding B+s?


  1. Instead of answering the complaint emails with a new email, just forward the end-of-semester email and see if they get the hint.

    If they don't, that's just tough luck.

    1. I *am* going to send a group email (one which looks like it might be, but is not in fact, an email to the entire class; I don't want to stir up any further discussion among those who are apparently satisfied). It will repeat many elements of the earlier grading email, but not exactly. It also includes a large chunk of the syllabus, quoted verbatim. Once I've done that (before, actually), I'm putting up a vacation message and disappearing for a week or so. I'll be interested to see what results; I've usually answered grade-inquiry emails individually, but I'm not sure that's the best approach. Now may be a good time for the less-personalized touch, reminding them that their grades are data points in a larger group. I made some allusion to that, gently, in the email.

  2. I've managed to avoid grade-grubbing emails by changing the way I assign numerical grades. I still assign B-plus grades, but I only assign grades on this scale: x0, x3, x5, x7. The gulf between an 87 and a 90 on individual assignments is clear, and the semester-end calculations skew toward 87 rather than 89, so B-plus students get the message and don't bother to ask.

  3. I once had a student e-mail about her A-. She failed to grasp that the solid B on her mid-term drags an A down. And she even gave me the "I don;t do well on tests!" whine. I guess I was just supposed to ignore the B and give he the A she deserved!

    Not ironically, many of her classmates scored higher on the midterm, which dragged their grades UP.

    It's a shame when even the supposedly smart students don't grasp elementary school math. Fractions, ratios, and percentages are hard! What's an average?


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