Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From Adjunct Assistance.

Grading, Teaching and Learning

How do you know you are grading your students fairly? Do your students grades reflect your performance as a teacher? What can you learn about your students’ learning from the class grade distribution?

College Student Grade Distributions

You say you are not a mathematics teacher. The word “statistics” strikes fear in your heart. I will try to simplify this subject for you.

We all know a little bit about statistics, right? Average? Okay, that is a good place to start. What is the average grade your students earned on the last test? What is the average grade your students are earning for the course? Does it seem reasonable? If the average works out to a B or C, things may be in order. Or, they may not be. This is where grade distribution comes into play.
If ¼ of your students are averaging 98 percent (high A’s) and ¾ of them are averaging 66 percent (mid D range), the average grade is (trust me on this) 74 percent (mid C range). The fact that a significant number of students get very good grades does not necessarily mean that the other students deserve the poor grades they are earning. It is all too easy to rationalize that if some students do well, you are doing well as an instructor. However, more likely than not, you have a problem you need to address.

Why Would the Majority of Students Fail?

If you graph your students’ grades on a simple bar chart, some interesting information may emerge. Look at Grade Distribution 1 on the right.  What conclusions would you draw?
Perhaps you have had classes like this.  If so, did you conclude that 25 percent A’s was a good thing?  Did you question why so many students failed?  Why might that be?
Some of the reasons why a large number of students got A’s while twice that number failed are:
  • There were two different groups of students – those who worked hard and studied and those who did not apply themselves.
  • One fourth of your students could teach themselves.  You only needed to tell them what they needed to learn, and they did the rest.
  • Half of the students could not learn in your class.  You may not have appealed to their diverse learning styles.  You may not have answered their questions in a way they could understand.  You may not assessed their learning “on the run.”  We call that formative assessment.
My point is this.  You may have missed the opportunity to help many of your students.  If you care about your students, this is definitly an aspect of teaching that you want to focus on.


  1. Or perhaps half of the students were badly prepared for the class -- perhaps even because their "diverse learning styles" had been so thoroughly catered to in prior classes that, when faced with a class where they actually have to write, or do math, or whatever (rather than substituting an interpretive dance), they can't, not necessarily because they're incapable of learning that skill, but because it's hard, and nobody ever insisted that they plug away at what's hard for them until it gets a bit easier?

    Or 1/4 of the class were overprepared (i.e. they already knew the material, from taking the class in another form), and you really are a pretty bad teacher (that's basically what happened in my freshman calculus class: most of the students had taken the BC AP Calculus course, and were repeating it in college to bolster their GPAs; those of us who actually had to learn the material didn't get much help from the TA). So, yes, it happens.

    I actually like the "one fourth of your students could teach themselves" point. That's a good one (and a real possibility, though I think the "overprepared" explanation above may work better; creating the conditions for learning, even by independent learners, is good teaching). But the idea that students failing is always a matter either of their not doing the work or of the teacher failing to teach them appropriately strikes me as shortsighted (no class is an island, after all), and the "formative assessment conquers all" conclusion reductionist.

  2. Gosh, basic math is hard! Glad this article assumes I'm a goddamned idiot.

    1. The gentleman in question says he has 4 websites of stuff like this.

  3. Yawn! Another article in which the students must never be expected to take any responsibility for their education....

  4. Replies
    1. Once students get to calculus, they should assume the cow is a prolate spheroid. The error is much lower :)

  5. why am I not surprised this was written by a Ed.D......

    1. Ed.D stands for Educational Douchebag, right?

    2. ... who needs to remind us he is both "Doctor" and "Ed.D." at the same time.