Friday, December 16, 2011


I think that working in groups made a difference for my students. I can't be sure that the groups were the deciding factor, but all 3 of my classes did better than what I usually see. My pre-calculus had 13 A's. 27 passed, and only 13 dropped or failed. I'm impressed. (The other 2 classes were smaller groups, and so I wouldn't expect the same sort of statistical significance.)

But I figured I should look up the old grades to see if this is significantly better, and found a class that did lots better than this one (18 A's, 35 people passing). I remember that class - they asked so many good questions, we got slowed down and didn't finish our trig unit. That hurt them later. So the grade doesn't reflect learning the required material.

That class was asking questions from the assigned homework. I'm still willing to answer those questions, but students seldom ask lately. (Why?) I used to make sure to answer every question. Now I watch the time more.

I hate grading. It is a way in which teachers have power over students. That transcript is asked for over and over. (I've had to show mine for every job I apply for, but I'm in academia. Maybe other employers don't ask for transcripts?) I try to make it transparent, fair, flexible, and an accurate representation of how much students have learned.
  • Transparent: I use percentages, and I explain my process on the syllabus (could I do more?).
  • Flexible: I have more than one way to calculate the grade, and use the max function in Excel to give each student the formula that works out best for them. (One thing I do that's not transparent is to have a grade option where the final exam is the whole grade - if they learned it, they're set. But I don't want to tell overly optimistic students about that option until a few weeks before the end.)
  • Fair: This semester I took to heart some of the blog posts I'd read that explain how a 0 affects the grade too much. (A and F should average to C. But 100% and 0% average to 50%, which is still an F in most classes.) I changed every 0 to a 40 before averaging. I chose 40 because my D goes down to 50% (and my C to 65%). I also agonize over making sure my bad feelings about troublesome students haven't affected their grade.
  • Accurate: I let them re-test, and I let them take the final exam twice. Do some people get a grade that's better than it should be? Probably some, but not many. The more important thing to me is that no one be punished for learning things a bit later than they were supposed to.
I'm almost done with grading. Once I'm truly done, and the relief has washed over me, I expect I'll start blogging about all sorts of other things: tutoring, Linear Algebra (I'll be teaching it next semester, for the first time in 10 years), and Playing With Math (the book, and the concept) among them.

Happy holidays!


  1. These issues are all very familiar to me, and I feel much the same as you about the grading. The gradebook program we use now does not require us to enter a grade for every assignment, so instead of zero, a "blank" takes the place of a grade. What ends up happening is that if they turn in only a few assignments, each of the assignments has more influence on their final grade than if their average was taken from a larger data set. Mostly, those kids get C's and D's in the end instead of the 38% F's that they'd get with the zero scores.

    For sixth graders, I don't talk too much about this other than to point out that if they spent more time on it, and asked questions now and then, they might better understand what they were doing. Amazing, how that works, eh?

  2. At our middle school, the new school wide performance bands were changed: 90-100 = A, 70-89 = B, 50- 69 = C, 30-49 = D, and 1-29 =F
    With these performance bands, a student that got an A (90) on one test and an F (20) on another would average out at 55, which is a C. It works out pretty well for us, but I worry if the students will be mortified when their 55 is a D in high school. This, of course, has been a "lively" conversation at our meetings!

  3. >their 55 is a D in high school.

    And an F in college (my clas is definitely an exception, D is usually 60-70).

  4. I love your grading system. I also strongly believe that it doesn't matter when students learn the material, I just care that they learn the material. I always allow retakes and sometimes, I reteach material as a student is half way through the test (especially if it's taking them hours after school to finish a test, I tell them to put it away and we go over some of the material again. Then I have them finish the test the next day.) I worried that I was being too lax, but I hated the idea of passing final judgement on a student's learning when their learning shouldn't be over yet. Maybe I'm still a little lax, but I can't stand to see my students suffer, especially when I think that they've been studying hard and maybe the reason they can't do it yet is because I haven't explained it right yet.


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