On grades

Here is a bell curve.  I could use it. I could also have: 20% W and F, 20% D, 20% C, 20% B, and 20% A. This would up my grades, and be nicer than a bell curve since more people would have A than F.

Not that it will help you at all, but here’s my wacky system. I teach writing, and points and percentages never made sense to me for writing assignments, so I grade on a 4.0 scale. I think this is also what I was trained to do as a baby teacher. The special beauty of the 4.0 scale is that 50% of a 4.0 is a 2.0 which is a C, not an F. So grade inflation is built into the grade calculation. Throw in 5% participation, a 5% reflective easy peasy final, and 15% homework (graded on a 5.0 scale–yo, kids, doing the reading every day IS your extra credit–which means, yes, I teach college and check homework, and the homework is always to do the reading, annotate it, and bring it to class, but if I didn’t do it, I’d be lucky if three students did the reading), and I feel like I have room to assign scary college-level grades on the actual papers because they can make Ds on all the papers and still walk out with a C, if they do everything else. There are some situations in which a student can automatically fail the course: plagiarizing a whole paper (not the accidental, I don’t know how to use quotation marks crap, but a whole paper), plagiarizing two more more times, and not doing all the papers. They don’t have to pass all the papers, but they have to do all of them. I get a whole lot of Cs and a sprinkling As, Bs, and Ds. I’m not counting the WFs or Ws. No one can ever make me pass a student who doesn’t attend or turn in the work. Period. Or at least not yet.

This means that almost every student who writes all of the papers, attends and reads regularly, and doesn’t plagiarize will pass. After learning to emphasize drop dates and putting my definition of plagiarism and penalties on every assignment, I’ve pulled my average pass rate up from 50% or less to about 66%, which is, of course, pretty damned sad. I teach primarily first-year comp, so we’ve got a high tolerance for failure, and I’m not (as far as I know) under pressure to increase my pass rate, though it does break my heart to see students taking out loans for Fs.

I really dread to think what will happen if Obama’s proposals to link an institution’s eligibility for financial aid to its pass rate / graduation rate. Of course, the intention would be to make universities offer students more tutoring and support to help them succeed, but that’s expensive, so the reality is likely to affect who is admitted and, even more likely, to put pressure on us to pass almost everyone by lowering standards. I’m usually a fan of Obama, but not on this one. It’s like No Child Left Behind for higher ed.

I think I’d be tempted to dumb down my job in a way that not only makes it easy for the students but also makes it easy for me. If they don’t have to work for grades, why should you have to work so hard to make sure that they pass? When my father taught high school math, the lowest a student could get on a test was 40. Students could earn up to 60 points to add to that 40, so they only had to earn 20 points to get a D and 30 to get a C, but it was still kind of hard to get an A. Maybe something simple like that would work?



One thought on “On grades

  1. Nick – So that image doesn’t actually say that C has to be median and there must be same number of each grade, right?

    Z – No, you would plot people on the curve. Median would be whatever grade you decided you wanted there. It seems that the middle is about the middle 40% of *scores* – not of people. So, no quotas, which is the beauty of this, I am discerning.

    Erin – Nicer than usual bell curve which I think is so unfair.

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