Monday, June 02, 2008

Grading challenges

Summer session began today, so it's back into the editing classroom.

One of the first things I tell students is that I would love to give all A's -- it means I have done my job and they have done theirs.

I also tell them I am willing to give all F's -- though that would mean I have failed as much as they have. Given my reputation as one of the three scariest profs on campus (PDF), I suspect they believe the latter more than the former. Yet little do they know (and they can ask my wife) that I'll agonize for a half-hour about giving a D (usually not an F because it is generally pretty clear that's what the person deserves).

Photographer Dave Weintraub, a colleague at USC, has an excellent post on Black Star Rising about the challenges of grading. He notes how intense pressures to have a high GPA, not just a degree, have tended to turn grading into an adversarial process, along with the danger of students' literalism (which is why my editing syllabus is nine pages).

The money quotes:
This pressure, I suspect, has led many students to view grading as an adversarial process, rather than a realistic evaluation of their progress. We educators are not just grading students' work -- in their minds, we are determining their futures. ...

There are also pressures on educators. We evaluate our students, but they also evaluate us, whether in anonymous, semester-end questionnaires, or on Web sites such as Rate My Professors. In addition to the natural human desire to be liked, there is an understandable concern among some faculty that poor student evaluations may impact their continued employment. On the other hand, we educators are often exhorted to uphold high standards and guard against grade inflation -- so that an A will always mean excellent, not average. In order to do this, we must be willing to give out not only Cs but also Ds and Fs. Otherwise, the grading rubric is meaningless.



At 6/3/08, 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The hardest to deal with are the ones who want to go to law school.

At 6/3/08, 9:25 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

Dunno; the only serious complaints I got this past year (the only year I've taught so far) were from a young woman who I think was aiming for MBA school. (She told me once but I've forgotten.) I had one student who was looking at law school, but she was the best and brightest I've worked with so her grade was never a point of contention.

Fortunately for me, as a TA I don't have to deal with the final grades.

I know one professor who never assigns a final grade of 89; she says her policy cuts down on the pleading for that one extra point.

It may get more complicated once plus/minus grades go into effect for undergrads.

At 6/3/08, 9:47 PM, Anonymous Michelle Montianto said...

yeah. its hard to deal with the persons who want to go to law scools


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