Friday, April 29, 2011

Inexplicable Grade Anxiety

I just spent 10 minutes answering a panicked email from a scheduled-to-be-graduating senior who's afraid that she isn't going to pass my class. It's an online class, and her participation has been less than stellar, but it's at least C level, and it's worth a fairly small portion of the course grade. She has an A- on a lightly-graded preparatory assignment worth nearly as much, and solid Bs in two other assignments worth, in total, 65% of the class grade, the more heavily-weighted of which she still has a chance to revise. As I told her, the only way she wouldn't pass would be to add plagiarized portions to the essay she's revising (and even that would be a judgment call, since she's already given me a satisfactory, plagiarism-free, version of that essay -- but I didn't say that). Admittedly the information necessary to come to this conclusion is in two places (the LMS gradebook, which doesn't offer much room for explanation, and the syllabus, which has the percentages), and it did take me a few minutes to pull it together. But my 10 minutes included some writing, and more than a little double-checking, since of course I don't want to send an email saying "don't worry; you're going to pass" to a student who might not, and her anxiety made me wonder if I was missing something. It's also possible, since she's taking this required course relatively late in her career, that she failed it once before.

But I'm still puzzled. She has the grades, she has the percentages, but she, like the students who disappear for most of the semester and then send emails asking how they can pass, seems to consider the origin of grades a total mystery. No wonder they find college so anxiety-provoking.


  1. I got that this week too. "I'm failing. I'm going to fail. Failure clings to me like it is my own skin!"

    She has a 78%.

    What was scarier is that I then suggested that she visit our counseling center to talk about her anxiety about grades. She responded, "They'll just say I'm crazy. Shrinks always say that to me."

    I'm glad this semester is over.

  2. I've seen online homework systems (used for science classes) where in the library of pre-existing homework problems are several problems requiring students to calculate grades according to the syllabus.

    It's not a bad idea - getting a little practice with fractions certainly won't hurt them...

  3. The real oddity in this case is that the students who are doing fine are the ones requesting grade confirmation, while the students who have neglected to hand in assignments, gotten back D after D, and missed as many classes as attended and are, in fact, in danger of failing.... never check.

  4. @ Dresner

    Yeah, and the only time you hear from them is when grades are posted.

  5. I have my students doing averaging quiz for a tiny portion of their grade this term. I thought it would help, but it just seems to freak them out even more. They either can't figure out how to do it, despite the instructions both on the syllabus and in the quiz, or they completely misinterpret the results. I tell them over and over that quizzes disproportionately affect their grades at first because they haven't had an essay due yet, mistakes made early are magnified in early averaging but have their effects diminish over time as more points come in (at least as long as they improve, which most do), and that they need to realize that writing makes up the vast majority of their grades. They still obsess over the quiz grades, don't understand proportionality, and get into a tizzy when their midterm averages aren't the grade they want to make in the class.

    And then, to top it off, I still get low marks on the student eval section in which they're asked whether I keep them informed of their progress and grades in a timely manner.

  6. Tell them there's an app, I think it's called Grade Calc, 99 cents and it tells you what you will have in the class if you get 100% on everything from that point on and what you will get if you do no work the rest of the term.


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