Thursday, February 19, 2009

I don't grade inputs 

The title of this post is my normal response to students who seek higher grades because "I tried really hard on this assignment" or give me a measure of hours worked. If that was the decisionmaking process, we would have you take your homeworks online and have your time studying measured by the computer. (We'd have to figure out that you were actually reading the screens, but it's doable.) Alternatively, you could come to a study center and punch in on a time clock. I would hire a monitor to make sure you aren't slacking, and grades would be assigned based on hours punched in.

This is, I hope you'll agree, absurd.

This article talks about students who nevertheless believe that arguments from inputs should count in what has become the all-too-common grade negotiation. I took two grades, as far as I remember, from college below a B. I worked harder in those two classes than any of the others because I knew I was having trouble. And I did not argue either one; indeed, the D in Fortran programming was probably gentlemanly.

Two quotes stick out:
�I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,� he said. �That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.�
I have tried to overcome this by telling students they start with zero and must reach certain marks to attain grades. (I don't use curves for grading.) Never use -2 or -5 when grading. Give +7 or +2 instead. Add, don't subtract. A dean at Vanderbilt in the article uses the right noun-verb combination: "students make grades," not "teachers give grades."

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

�I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,� Mr. Greenwood said. �What else is there really than the effort that you put in?�

�If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?� he added. �If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher�s mind, then something is wrong.�

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, �I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.�
These students have not been taught correctly. Freshman classes are meant to impart values for learning, and one of them is "you are graded in life on what you accomplish, not how much sweat you produced."