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Please begin with an informative title:

I have now graded one set of exams (two more to go) and all the papers and extra credit submissions and quizzes and such extras.  So I can see the other side of the hill.  It doesn't look too pretty but whatever -- the end of term is coming.  Grades are due on the 20th of December.  It is coming up quickly.

The first set of exams has produced a puzzle for me.  Details below the orange pretzel.

Intro

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

This has not been a great semester.  Students have been sick (one had a repeated serious, but not life-threatening, situation that assured regular missing of classes because of hospital admittance), had car accidents (one hit by a car, another's sister was in a serious one), or other serious problems.  But nothing explains the problem with this last exam, one which the majority of students did much worse on.  The average mark was almost 8 points lower than the previous lowest exam grade.  I am a bit shocked by this.  I haven't had this sudden a drop before, and I didn't use a new template for the exam, and in fact several of the questions have been on either quizzes or previous tests (yes, I recycle -- I figure the content is the same; if a student has memorized an answer from a previous test, then he or she will know the answer and that is the most important thing -- but only for a third or so of the questions).  Half the points are slide identification, just like the exams they have had previously.  I will have to look at the exams in more detail, but there are lots of questions I have now about what went wrong.  

And it has gone wrong, at least given the evidence of this test.  I have years of data that indicate this is an anomalous semester, but I would like to know why the results were so bad.  It should not be that different a result with the last exam from the earlier ones, or from the previous semesters' scores.  Was it just a bad semester with a group of weaker students?  That happens, but it wouldn't explain why one test would be so substantially lower than the others.  It wasn't the time of the exam -- it was Tuesday morning, at 9:30 am.  The same time of day as the class; they all were awake and on time for the exam.  It was not at the end of the finals week, so it wasn't exhaustion or anxiety to leave town (well, maybe...).  I will have to come up with other possibilities.  These are hypotheses, and then they will have to get tested.  It shouldn't happen like this, and I don't want to have it happen like this again.

I ask myself these kinds of questions whenever I get an unexpected result.  And it will take up several days of my break, when I am trying to make otherwise have a relaxing Christmas.  I am teaching this class again this coming spring semester.  What should I do to improve things this next time?  

I was happy with the written components in this class.  They have morphed recently into a series of short assignments that are responses and analyses of articles on subject matter covered by the class.  The papers are two to three pages long and the assignments are concise.  They are also sometimes fun to grade.  From the first assignment to the third of the short papers, they generally improved in citation and bibliographic form, proofreading and written tone (more formal, more scholarly).  Usually average test grades go up, too.

Curious.  I hope I figure it out.

Suggestions?  How are your classes finishing up this semester?

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

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