Monday, May 20, 2013

Grade Grubbers Galore

I teach Intro to Hamsterology to one large section of 400+ students. Thus crowd control is crucial, particularly with respect to grade grubbing.

After mid-semester tests which are graded by my PhD student assistants under my close supervision, I give students the opportunity to request a "review of their mark" (by me, personally) within a specified time period via an elaborate written procedure. I allow no personal discussion before, during or after this process. The time period starts a week after the test is returned (to give them time to cool off) and ends a week later (to avoid the end of semester grade grubbing frenzy). Anyone wanting to meet with me to get "more advice and not to ask for more marks" (yeah right, they're just lazy and trying to circumvent the procedure) can do so, but only the day AFTER the specified grade review request period ends. End of semester grade grubbers (and the Deans they complain to) are told "but you had the opportunity to get your grade reviewed by me and you didn't take it."

Normally only a handful bother to follow the process, but this semester, I had 2 dozen requests, and their reasons for requesting a grade review reached new depths of grubbiness. Here's a sample:

Dreamer Delia: My dream was to get 25/25 in the multiple choice section and I only got this one question wrong so I think you should give me the mark so I can achieve my dream.

Dream-Killer (rolling on the floor laughing): Just call me Dream-Killer!


Indignant Ian: I take great exception to the way your assistant graded my essay. He was clearly incompetent and should be fired. I only raise this because I am so concerned about the quality of the grading which was clearly incompetent.

Dream-Killer: You will be relieved to know that the "DK" initialed on your essay indicates that your essay was originally graded by me personally, because my assistant couldn't read your foul writing. You can rest easy knowing that your 5/25 grade was fairly earned and not over-inflated by a generous assistant.

Slimy Sam: I didn't get any points for defining "Hamster Nutrition" but I did define it!
Dream-Killer: [After reading carefully through pages of drivel]: You defined it as "nutrition for Hamsters"!!! No change.


Furious Fanny: I was shocked to receive 15 for Part A of my essay. I answered this.... and did this... and said this... which was consistent with page 152 of the text....and I added this from your notes.... did I not deserve more marks for this section? I only got that one definition wrong. I demand you review my answer carefully and give me the mark I deserve.

Dream-Killer: I too was shocked to see that you received 15 for Part A. That section was worth 15 marks. Given that you got one definition wrong, you certainly did not deserve to get full mark for that section. I would be happy to give you the grade you deserve, 13/15.


Anybody else care to share their tales of post-assessment woe?


  1. Fanny's a classic, in my experience. If the total points are anything less than 100 (or if the LMS doesn't accurately describe the total points, a fact which the instructor has carefully noted in at least 3 places) there will be howls of knee-jerk protest. (On the other hand, I can testify from experience that if one posts a grade and comments on a less-than-adequate response to a somewhat complex paper assignment, with an offer of a chance to revise and a request to "email me" in said comments, the response will be crickets at least 90% of the time).

    I've never had a grading assistant. Maybe I should invent a fictional one, just to see what nonsense results (or may not; the nonsense is plentiful already).

  2. I see all of those, plus more, fairly regularly in my classes. I teach large introductory science classes, mainly for students who don't major in my subject, which has a reputation of being very difficult, but are required to take two semesters of it to get in to a few particular, highly competitive, types of professional programs in a couple of tangentially related fields. There are a lot of these students and they are very special snowflakes indeed. They are all stressed about their grades and many would sell their grandmothers souls to get an A, particularly if it meant they didn't have to actually do any work or learn anything. So cheating is rampant and the begging can get very creative. Also, I am a vindictive bitch who has ruined many lives over the years of students who have gotten a B in my classes and now will never get into their particularly highly competitive professional program and now what will they do with their lives and it is all my fault and why won't I just change their grade to an A and be nice for once and not the horrible, evil person that everybody knows me to be. It is amazing.

    The absolute best one I ever had, though, was Entitled Emma a couple of years ago. The conversation went roughly as follows, as she turned in her final exam in the second semester of the class:
    Emma: Can I talk to you for a minute? I really need an A in your class.
    Me: Well, you're grade is roughly a B+ right now and you've just handed in your final, so I have to grade it to know what you'll get.
    Emma: But I really need an A.
    Me: Well, I have to grade your final first.
    (This goes on for a few minutes, until she gets to the point)
    Emma: No, I meant in Science 1.
    Me: But that class ended in December and now it is May?
    Emma: But I really need an A in that class. I got a B+ and I really need an A.
    Me: That class ended several months ago and it is too late. I can't change your grade.
    Emma: Yes you can. There's a form. My advisor told me about it.
    Me: I can't change your grade.
    Emma: But you can, so long as I'm still an undergraduate.
    Me: You're misunderstanding me. I know about the form, it is for when I make a mistake. I *can* change your grade, but I *won't* change your grade. I didn't make a mistake.
    Emma is completely deflated and walks away. She got a B in the class and I was *very* happy about that.

    1. I swear I had Emma's brother Ernie the other year. He came to see me after the first lecture to let me know that he'd never gotten lower than an A before.

      I believe I congratulated him and repeated my advice to not fall behind because most students find it difficult to get caught up again and to come to office hours if he was struggling.

      He never came to office hours, and at the end of the term he got to have a new experience: one involving a rather lower grade than an A.

      Well, imagine that.

    2. My alma mater had a policy that a student could challenge a course grade but there was a catch: the result of the reassessment became part of the official record. I don't know of anyone who tried. I guess the possibility that one could end up with a lower grade scared people off.

  3. My favourite situations were students who started complaining almost immediately after the exam was over, claiming that scholarships were "at stake" if they didn't do well. I hadn't even graded the exam, let alone post the results and already they were whining.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. "Slimy Sam: I didn't get any points for defining "Hamster Nutrition" but I did define it!
    Dream-Killer: [After reading carefully through pages of drivel]: You defined it as "nutrition for Hamsters"!!! No change"

    Slimy Sam: *Gafaw!* How is that NOT a definition! You weren't clear on what you were expecting and I'm telling the Dean!!!

    1. In a case like that, it might be a good idea to get a colleague to re-grade the exam and those results become official. On the other hand, maybe not. Sam might file a complaint claiming bias or conspiracy.

  6. I just love how you killed Dreaming Delia's dream. HOW'D she not see that one coming?

    I tend to get some weird, extreme stories. Like the time Refugee Reanne told me if she did not get her C, she'd get departed back to her home country, where she would be killed. I signed her death warrant with a little trepidation and guilt, but sign it I did. And then I saw her around campus for three more years until she finally graduated.

    This past semester, I did have some non traditional student doozies, like First Generation Filomena, who needed to pass my class because she had already failed it three times, and her grandmother's dying wish was to see her granddaughter be the first person in the family to pass College Composition. I am not kidding.

    Kinda makes Grade Grubbing Grace, about whom I wrote last month, seem lame. She wanted an A, not a B+, on account of the fact that she was awesome, just very busy working three jobs, which she kept even though she was taking five classes on account of the fact that our college was supposed to be a joke anyway. I should give her that A because I knew what she could have accomplished if she were not working three jobs. And I did. But I posted the B+ she earned, nonetheless, to the final grade roster.

  7. Oh, how familiar these have become... keep the faith, DK.

    When I was in grad school, I got my first crier. It was unpleasant. But thankfully, I've grown more hard-hearted. This past semester, I had another crier. Scholarships were at stake. A first-generation college student was in danger of letting her whole family down, including, yes, a sickly grandmother. She insisted that she really, really needed a B. (Yes, all this for a B!)

    My response: "For someone who needed a B so badly, you didn't put very much effort into the class."

    She had no ready answer for this. Needless to say, she received no extra points.

    1. I just LOVE your awesome response to your crier!!! I shall make like a plagiarizing snowflake and gleefully use your line the next time I am told a student really really needs a higher grade!!!

    2. You're my inspiration, DK.

    3. Nicely done. I do something along the same lines. I say "You had 12 weeks to see me for help when something could have been done about your grades. Now that the class is over, your grades are what they are."

  8. Exam ended at 6:00pm.

    I got an email at 6:02pm.

    Student had learned (instantaneously?) that he had used the wrong formula, because the formula in my notes had a typo (which anyone literate would have spotted). As proof, please find attached an image of that particular page with the formula highlighted.

    He's actually done me a favour by helping me correct my notes, but it's just weird how the complaints start within minutes of the exam ending.

  9. I had students phoning me before the exam was even over. They complained about how difficult it was, yet could have spent almost another hour working on it. One challenged my competence because I was only "an assistant to the professor", etc. Oddly enough no one came to me after I had done the marking: they just wanted to attack me for the exam. That was one of my top courses from Hell.

    1. And that reminds me of the time a student berated me during the exam. She felt that one of the questions required too much mechanical computation and was taking too much time ....

      I declined to debate the matter with her but really really wanted to say:

      If you stop your tirade then you might have time to row-reduce the hamster to a simpler form.