Monday, May 25, 2015

Grade-Grubbing Grief: The Bargaining Stage

Or maybe this is still the denial stage. What do I know?

"I have 57% on the written assignments, 58% on the quizzes, 58% on the final, 98% attendance, and 77% on the midterm, so my total grade is 347%. Does that mean I pass?"


  1. He/she/it didn't even add it up right. It's 348%. Enough to bump him/her/it up a half-letter grade?

    1. Absolutely. The dean has already corrected this egregious error.

  2. Sounds legit. What's the problem?

  3. Replies
    1. At first, I thought what a great idea this would be.

      Then I realized it's something they'd actively want to be in.

  4. The weighted-average approach to calculating grades is fast going the way of the dodo. Those of us who haven't yet succumbed to a total-points system, with every point getting equal weight (which includes me, since the points-only approach sounds to me like an incredible headache to design and maintain and adjust should something -- like, say, lots of snow -- happen, and small assignments, if not large ones, need to be adjusted) will soon have to yield. I blame Blackholeboard (which officially allows for weighted averages, but in practice makes them much, much less convenient than the total-points approach) and innumeracy. But there are calculators! spreadsheets! It's really not that hard -- well, at least not for us old fogeys who like weighted averages.

    1. At the place where I used to teach, we had a certain associate dean. He had an idea after reviewing some course outlines. We described in great detail what was covered, not only which topics but, sometimes, the amount of time allocated for each of them. He suggested that we should also add the portion of the final grade each topic had. So, for example, if the course was heat transfer, how much went to conduction, how much to convection, and so forth.

      Not only didn't that make any sense, it would have created much more work for each of us than it was worth. Fortunately, his suggestion soon faded away, at least while I was still there.

    2. The portion of the final grade accounted for by each topic is likely to be roughly proportional to the fraction of the total course time spent on the topic. But I don't see the benefit to putting such info up front for students to consume, as it might encourage a "cafeteria" approach to studying.

      Also, some concepts are cumulative, inasmuch as failing to master one foundational concept could cause the student to lose points on a test of other concepts. This is where the approximation I just made above falls apart, as the foundational concept would take on a higher "worth" towards the final grade.

      So, while I'm all in favor of ensuring that all the assessments measure the learning of all the topics in a course, I'm not sure how assigning specific point (or percent) values to each topic would significantly add to that process.

    3. OGH:

      I ran into that cockeyed thinking when I taught one of my last service courses. The department in question sort of did things like I described, which I didn't know about, and I got into a lot of trouble both with the students and the DH because of it.

      For example, if the students made algebraic errors in their calculations, I penalized them for it. That led to incessant whining resulting in conversations like:

      "We've already been tested on it, so why are you grading us on it now?"

      "Because that's where you actually use those concepts for real."

      Even if they had been tested on it before, they had to keep demonstrating that they actually learned it. In industry, they wouldn't be allowed to get away with that sort of nonsense because the consequences of sloppiness could be greater.

  5. Math like that does tend to leave me convinced that the student is in denial.

    I am reminded of the Five Stages of Grading that BurntChrome brought to our attention in this comment.


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