All Now Mysterious...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grade-mongering 101

One of the 200+ students I'm teaching this year e-mailed me tonight about his grade. For the sake of this post, let's call him P. In his e-mail, P told me that he's not satisfied with the C+ he earned last quarter and wants me to change it. Here we go.

First, a little history. P has had difficulties with his grade on two prior occasions. One of these was an online quiz I gave my students a month or so ago. The quiz was available 24/7 for about 3½ weeks, including the weeks before and after winter break. The quiz, along with the deadline to take it, was announced in class every day. It was posted on the class website and on the homework section of the board in class. The quiz was open book. There was no time limit. Students could take the quiz up to three times, and the system was programmed to keep only the highest score. It was set up specifically for students to be able to raise the Tests & Quizzes portion of their quarter grade. The average score on the quiz was about 18.5/20.

P came to me the Monday after the quiz closed to tell me that he had mixed up the deadlines and had only taken the quiz once. He wanted to know how he could take it two more times. I told him that he couldn't. I reminded him, as I had said several times in class, that all attempts on the quiz had to be completed before the deadline, and since he had only bothered to take it once, the score he earned on that one attempt was the score he would keep. He was displeased because his score (on an open book online multiple choice quiz with no time limit, mind you) was 8.5/20. He said he didn't think that was fair.

The second incident involved his semester final. On my final exams, students are given ten problems, each worth the same number of points. They choose eight of them to do, meaning they can skip the two problems they think are the hardest. Their exam grade is then entered as a percentage out of 100 points. (Other exams in my class are worth 40-60 points, generally.)

P received a submarine grade (below C level) on his final exam. He came up to me after class the day I gave the exams back to tell me that grade was "unacceptable". He argued that he should have received more points on several of the problems. Most notable was one problem where the students were asked to calculate the average atomic mass of an element using a weighted average. For his answer he wrote down the atomic mass from the periodic table (at least I know that he knows how to read it!) and the phrase "Work done on calculator"—even though my verbal instructions to the class at the beginning of the exam, the written instructions on the board at the front of the class, and the written instructions on the test itself all said "You must show all your work to receive full credit". Complicating matters was the fact that his answer did not include the appropriate unit or the correct number of significant figures—both of which were also addressed in the test instructions, both of which we talk about every single time we do a calculation together in class.

I gave him 4/10 on the problem, the same grade I gave everyone who did that.

He wasn't buying it. He said that he had found the correct answer and that he should get all the points. I explained—rather patiently, I thought—that although he had written down the correct answer, I had no idea how he had found it. For all I knew, he had just looked at the person next to him and copied their answer. I reemphasized the instructions on the test itself, the instructions that I had circled while grading the exam, showing clearly that he needed to show his work and use the right units and sig figs. He was unconvinced. He told me he deserved to get more points than I had given him. I told him in not so many words that wasn't going to happen. He said, "I just don't think it's fair."

Anyway, on to today's e-mail. He wrote me this note:

Hey Mr. M

For the term I received a C+ and I am not about to let that affect my GPA. I had several ungraded assignments and I don't know why? Please email me back. My grades are important to me and I plan to never have this kind of grade in any class, not just this one. Thanks

Here we go again.

Of all the thoughts that have run through my mind, the one I keep coming back to is this one: If you had a concern about ungraded assignments or your grade in general, why did you wait until a week and a half after the term was over to bring them to my attention? If (and that's a big 'if') there really are assignments that were never graded, that would have been a great thing to talk to me about before the grades were finalized—especially since I asked everyone to have all their assignments turned in a week before the end of the quarter so that we would have time to fix things like this before I had to finalize the grades.

I waited a couple of hours to e-mail him back. This is what I eventually ended up writing:


I'm not going to try and resolve this through e-mail. Come and see me tomorrow (Wednesday) after school. Bring me a printout showing the assignments you think were not graded, and we'll take a look at it. If there is a legitimate problem, I'll do what I can to fix it. Realize, however, that you not agreeing with how I graded assignments (like your final exam) does not constitute a 'legitimate problem'.

I'll see you tomorrow afternoon.

I am brimming with anticipation.


  • Good luck with that, honey! I look forward to hearing what he has to say. That is, if he shows up.

    By Blogger Nancy, At January 29, 2013 11:48 PM  

  • Best of luck to you. I haven't had that yet, but it's only a matter of time. I look forward to setting how you deal with this student.

    By Anonymous Tiffany, At January 30, 2013 5:02 AM  

  • Wonder what the parental attitude on this is. Perhaps P just needs to blow off steam or make an attempt so you are the heavy when the grades come home. So much easier to grumble about unfair than grumble about your own procrastination or oversight. (put your own government/"pervasive american attitude" rant here)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 30, 2013 9:58 AM  

  • As a follow-up: Ne never showed.

    By Blogger Michael, At November 29, 2013 9:09 AM  

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