Nov 8, 2010

The grading dilemma

Much I might like things to be otherwise, the grading dilemma isn't entirely over yet. This is the part of the semester I despise the most: the bit in between when students start to realize they're not doing quite as well as they'd hoped in class, and there are only a few chances to recover. Of course, 50% of their grade are in the final two aspects of the course: their group project and their final exam. So all-in-all, plenty of room for improvement.

But in the meantime, I have to manage their concerns. Some students are brave enough to come see me in my office, to ask how they could have improved their work. I don't mind these meetings -- at least they aren't coming to moan about nothing, and showing initiative of wanting to improve. Usually, these students are open to feedback and they suddenly see (when I point it out to them) how their performance doesn't match up to the standards of the assignment.

Then there are those students who've for some reason been entirely asleep in the first two thirds of class only to wake up to the fact that they're close to failing the course. Can I see them, most urgently? Of course. Not that it will help much. I'll tell them they need to do X, Y and Z to achieve a more reasonable grade. But they'll do none of it. By my experience, students who perform poorly are rarely able to recover. They just panic instead.

Other students come in for no other reason than to weasel their way into a higher grade. These students enter the room full of gung-ho approaches, with a list in their head of their arguments, with an agenda to push while sitting in my office. These students are incapable of absorbing any response I have. Typically, they don't like to hear that their grade won't be changed. They keep hammering on about the same point, as if saying 6 times will make me more likely to change my mind, rather than more likely to want to strangle them. 

Still, I offer these misguided hopefuls my time. I even offer them more personalized feedback on their assignments, i.e. if they really cared about improving their performance, they'd take constructive criticism. Unfortunately, most of these students tend to be ok or even good students. Maybe they got a B+ on the assignment and for whatever reason they need an A. 

One such student was in my office today. His GPA is 3.99, he explained, and his boss will give him a $7,000 bonus if he gets a 4.0. I understand your motives, I told him, but it doesn't change your work. I have a fair and consistent system of grading everyone. I can't just randomly go around changing people's grades. It wouldn't be fair.

Oh, but he had many arguments. He worked 40 hours on this assignment. He has As in all his other classes. He repeats his high GPA. (Am I supposed to be impressed by all this? I work hard too and have an award winning dissertation, but that doesn't mean my papers get published.) 

Seeing that I'm going to give him very little room to manipulate me about the mid-term assignment, he eventually he turns to his other grades. What about his participation score? Why is it "just" an A and not an A+. (What's wrong with an A? It's a perfect score ...). No but his friend got an A+. Yes, because your friend got a higher score than you; and again, I have to assign grades fairly.

Then he turned to the quiz. He got a B on that. Not much room for argument there, since it's multiple choice. I show him his quiz, but he barely glances at. He tries to argue one answer which is CLEARLY the wrong answer and I point that out. He drops the topic quickly (and wisely). The quiz score, after all, shows me that perhaps his understanding of the conceptual frameworks is less perfect than he thinks, and it might explain why his assignment isn't A work. 

Running out of options, he launches into an argument with me about using letter grades (i.e. the GPA system) to calculate the final grade, rather than the actual percentage (i.e. like they get on the quiz). How exactly am I supposed to mix the two methods, pray tell me? More relevantly, I clearly state in the syllabus AND in the class folder online that I will use the letter grade method to determine the final grade. So this is not news.

Oh, but it's not fair.

I came THIS close to quoting my father: "Life isn't fair. Deal with it." (Dare I point out the privileges of living in a Western country as an upper middle-classer, compared to the poor buggers in Bangladesh who don't even learn how to read ... I would dare but I fear it would draw out the stupidity of the conversation even longer). 


I wonder if he realizes that by pissing me off both in the classroom and in my office by wasting an otherwise perfectly good and usable hour, that I'm that much less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt should he have a borderline mark at the end of the day ...??

Oh, and please, someone slap his boss for me.

1 comment:

  1. You bought the $7000 story???

    I do admit, that's a creative one. A random enough amount, yet not so high to raise eyebrows and speculate whether or not it is true, and still yet plausible that an employer would offer such a bonus plan.

    He's good....and by all account persistent.

    Hang in there professor.....