curve bawl

I hate grading. I hate grades. I especially hate grading in classes where it seems like everyone ends up on the cusp of two grades (which happens more often now that I’m working someplace with a +/- system). That’s exactly the predicament I’m in now.

It seems that my students and I had different ideas for the final paper in the class. This coupled with our different ideas for the not-final paper in the class has created a situation where students are not doing as well as I would have thought (to varying degrees).

There are clearly a number of strategies for curving/re-distributing grades. What are some of the favorites of scatterplot readers? For what it’s worth, I’m particularly concerned that there is a “system” because I want to be able to strongly support my final grades when the helicopter parents disgruntled students come knocking.

6 thoughts on “curve bawl”

  1. Obviously, you get less grief when you err on the side of the higher grade. It is most problematic when the grades on the last exercise are markedly lower than what students came to expect from earlier grades. (Teaching tip for the future: be especially tough in the first graded assignment.) If the grade distribution on the final paper is similar to the not-final paper, the students will at least know what to expect, and you don’t have to worry so much.

    I always officially reserve the right to make decisions about borderline grades on the basis of my qualitative assessment of how well students did overall, i.e to raise a grade for improvement, or to give a grade most consistent with the overall pattern, if the average is being pulled up or down by one outlier grade. I also reserve the right to decide my grading was too tough, and to raise (but not lower) grades at the end. I should note when I say this that I still give fewer A’s than a lot of my colleagues. But if my scheme has given no A’s, I take a very serious look at the curve and tend to adjust so that there are at least some A’s. The trick is to make all the gut-wrenching decisions about what grade to give now, including asking yourself what you’ll tell the students, and then stick with it.

    Don’t know if this helps you in your immediate crisis.

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  2. Ramona: Stop by my office sometime and check out my collection of Magic 8 balls.

    Also, welcome to Scatterplot! And, don’t forget that point #2 of our three-point style guide is to use all small letters for your name.

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  3. Oh, I resemble this posting!

    When I hit those cusp situations, I groan too. I sometimes review my grading of the paper, especially if it was one I graded early in the stack (before I knew the trend) – and am equally willing to decide that I was too easy on the student or too hard. That resolves some cases.

    For the rest, I let the grade fall wherever it does on the scale. When the students inevitably show up (at my school, with sob stories about how the low grade will affect scholarships or entrance to a desired major), I explain the grading system. Then, borrowing the technique of an esteemed older colleague, I tell them that I can re-evaluate the grading of the paper in case I made an error applying the standards – but that I will have to re-grade carefully and apply the standards with equal precision to the whole thing, which might bring the grade up or down. If I made one error, I have to be diligent to catch any others. Most choose not to have such careful scrutiny, knowing full well that the original grade overlooked minor failings that would now draw attention.

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  4. I hate these situations, too. They can eat up a lot of emotional energy.

    I will have to re-grade carefully and apply the standards with equal precision to the whole thing, which might bring the grade up or down. If I made one error, I have to be diligent to catch any others.

    I do this with students who complain about my tests and it works really well.

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  5. A couple of things I do:

    1) I enter all of my grades into an Excel spreadsheet and then put in the little formula-thingy (technical term, there) so as to calculate the final grade automatically. This works well as a handy visual aid to show the student that even a 100% on the final wouldn’t kick their grade up to the next level they’re aiming at. This really only works in classes with a lot of assignments and a final that’s weighted relatively the same as other papers and such ; I’ve always been surprised at how little difference the final exam grade makes under those conditions.

    2) Another vote for the ever-reliable, “Sure, I could look at that, but then I’d have to look at the whole thing verrrrry carefully”. Thanks, whoever told me about that one.

    3) Being flexible upon realizing I have graded a paper in a moment of cranky despair over how low my standards have fallen.

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