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I have been handing back papers in my classes and getting new ones -- the three day "weekend" I have will, after I finish this and pull stories for the evening's OND, be devoted to grading (and mostly commenting on) a set of papers from an intro-level class.  The papers I handed back last week were all over the place and, while I wrote all over the papers (something I keep trying not to do as it adds so much time to my grading!) I found myself frustrated again by several students who are clearly capable of doing well on a given assignment but make the decision that it isn't worth it to really succeed.  How do I define success?

Well, in some ways I define success the same way my students do: to be successful is to get an A.  Or at least to earn an A.  The latter is more difficult but more important and requires both desire and dedication.  And time on task.

So if you were writing a paper (or an essay) or a test, what would an A in your grade mean?  Follow me beyond the folder computer logo for some idea of what I am looking for.

An A to me is an outstanding grade.  It doesn't mean just that you have done everything that is required.  It means that you have done more than that.  For an essay exam, it is not just that you have answered the question or even answered it relatively well, drawing on what we have discussed in class.  An essay should do those things, of course, but an A essay will show that you have done the readings (both assigned and ideally the recommended ones as well), have listened to and learned the material covered in the class meetings, and that you can draw connections across multiple disciplines and (in the case of an art history class) across multiple periods and regions.  There should be clear organization, no major (and very few minor) questions about your accuracy, and it should not have any grammatical issues that interfere with my ability to follow your argument.  Yes, content is important, but an understanding of context is the major thing I am looking for.  That and a sparkle in the writing -- it can be fun to read, enjoyable to follow your argument, and a strong A essay will show that you have the ability to make connections beyond the ones you have been given in class.

As you can see an A is not easy to get (an A- is easier, certainly, but an A is a top grade and I feel it should be reserved for a truly outstanding paper).  That is part of the design.  If I don't push or challenge my students, how do they improve?  And (for my university this is essential to the subject at hand) how do I document that they have improved?  If you do well without trying to go beyond the minimum, then what is to encourage you to do more than I am setting as the baseline?  I know about triage in college -- I chose which courses to put the effort into and which I had to let slide, even a little bit, so I could do better in others.  

When I have tests that are largely objective (and I do have several objective components to most of my exams) you can get perfect largely through memorization of major elements.  The memorization is a way of establishing a framework into which unknown objects can be fit.  The fitting of unknown objects, and understanding why they are to be placed into the timeline in that location, is an example of the critical thinking that can rise to the level of an A on the essays.  

As to papers I had one this past week that earned a low mark.  There was critical thinking, but clearly the thinking was based on the misunderstanding of the assigned reading.  The student was talking about another culture's social interaction (I can't really be more specific, I don't think) and while the point of the paper was to analyze a different culture, the framework was a completely western one.  That meant that the methodological/theoretical understanding of the material (or lack thereof) impacted the final grade.  If you know the vocabulary, and some of the ideas, of a discipline, and choose to apply it to a paper subject, but cannot apply it appropriately, the grade you get will be for the attempt, not for any success you had with it.  

Another thing that will affect a grade very quickly, suddenly, is misrepresenting your sources.  Depending on whether I think it is malicious or inadvertent, and how much of a component of your paper it is, I will turn in a writer to the university for plagiarism, or I will give a very low "courtesy" grade.  It is frustrating to me that I need to tell students to cite their sources, but I do -- in the syllabus, in the assignment directions, and in class when I give an assignment.  If you choose not to credit where you got your information then my default response is to assign zero points and report the issue with academic integrity to the university.  I state in my syllabus that I have a "zero tolerance" policy with respect to plagiarism.  And it is mostly true, but I have been known to ask a student to revise a paper and resubmit.  But when that is required and the end result is perfect, you still won't get an A, because you didn't follow the rules and misrepresented your source material when you first submitted.  In other words, do the paper well and do it right the first time around.  

I often have papers that are developed in multiple stages.  The first component of such an assignment led to a list of characteristics of the level of paper quality related to grades.  I posted it online the next year under the title "Here is what I am looking for in the first paper component" and it was available to students before they wrote the assignment.  I think very very few students looked at this, as few of them followed the guide which would have told them how to write a paper that would get an A.

A         Thesis is a clear, provable one-sentence statement.  

Argumentation is well laid out; writing is formal in tone with very few if any grammatical and spelling mistakes.  

Notation and bibliographic form are accurate according to Turabian (or Chicago Manual of Style).

The correct number and distribution of sources is present and annotations are informative, giving both qualifications of the author and specifics of what each source provides to the paper.

B         Thesis is a clear, provable one-sentence statement.  

Writing is relatively clear, and argumentation is reasonably laid out.  Although there may be problems with writing style, grammar, or spelling, they do not impede the reader’s comprehension of the argument.

There are easily-fixable concerns with the bibliography and notation but all components of the paper are present.

C         Thesis is potentially problematic and/or needs rephrasing to become a provable statement.

            Writing is so problematic that the reader has to add in words or rephrase sentences to draw out meaning (in other words, I cannot understand what you are trying to say in many cases).  Organization in general needs work.

            Directions are loosely followed, and there are problems with length, font or font size, and/or bibliography (sources or annotations).

D         Thesis is missing, is unprovable, or is poorly designed.

Writing is confusing and the proposal does not indicate how you are going to approach the proving part of the next assignment.  Spelling and grammar are inconsistent to the point of confusion.

Bibliography and notation is not in Turabian style and sources are weak.  Sources generally do not address the thesis topic.  The number of sources and annotations may be well below the required number.  

Directions were largely ignored.

In other words, in practical application, an outstanding paper didn't really need to be as perfect as I really would like them to be.  But an A still was out of the reach of many people in the class.  Even when they are told exactly what is needed, often students don't really think the work is necessary to put into the assignment.  Darnit.

I feel cynical about papers sometimes.  Maybe it isn't the right day to be grading?

(here's hoping you have a long weekend and can catch up on sleep)

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 01:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think some days are better than others. (4+ / 0-)

    grades can be based on how hard the individual worked even though the work isn't as good as from another student who didn't have to try as hard.

    Silence is GOLDEN, but duct tape is SILVER =)

    by effervescent on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 01:41:38 PM PDT

  •  Writing is formal in tone (5+ / 0-)

    Hmmm.

    I took a math teaching methods class which required solving a problem and writing a reflective paper about the process each week. I peppered my papers with puns, anecdotes and a generally informal approach. Quite often the anecdotes would have "good point" or "ha ha" written beside them in the margin when the papers were returned.

    On the last paper of the semester, reflecting on the course as a whole, the instructor drew a big smiley face on the last page and wrote, "I always looked forward to reading your work!"

    "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

    by Orinoco on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 02:06:42 PM PDT

  •  What is an "A"? Say...95%. Except in band. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, Aunt Pat, sweet lisa

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 02:15:14 PM PDT

  •  Directions were largely ignored. (13+ / 0-)

    One of the major complaints that I get from students is that they don't feel that the directions apply to them. They feel that they should be able to write what ever they want, however they want.

    The major complaint in my course evaluations is that I require them to follow the directions.

  •  makes sense to me but then I have known (13+ / 0-)

    other teachers who argue that if a student meets expectations, then it is an A.  At this point I have to ask what their definition of average is, as it seems to me that average (C) represents the broad range of students, say 50% of your usual class.  Below average is about 20% while 20% would be above average while an A would be 10% or fewer of a class (note: A here reflects range of A- to A+)

    I left teaching in 1993 after a couple of decades in the field and so standards may have changed.  I still remember the school board who discovered half of the county's students were in the bottom 50% of the county's students and promptly passed a regulation that each teacher should have 100% of students above 50% within 2 years.  What happened was 20% of students tied for valedictorian while 70% of the students enjoyed a 3.5 average or above.  However, 50% remained in the bottom half to the consternation of the school board.  

    •  Math fail (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman

      In any grouping of 100%, there will be a bottom 50% by definition. You cannot eliminate a percentage any more than you can eliminate average --it's a moving target. If everyone improves, the average gets better but it remains the average. This school board is clearly composed of idiots who need to be IN education rather than being in charge of education.

      "Is there anybody listening? Is there anyone who sees what's going on? Read between the lines, criticize the words they're selling. Think for yourself, and feel the walls become sand beneath your feet." --Geoff Tate, Queensryche

      by DarthMeow504 on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 08:30:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Grade inflation (8+ / 0-)

    is so rampant now. I went to college in the late 50s. Straight A's were so rare as to be nonexistent. Now especially in H. S. I see reports of how common 4.0 averages are, and even higher than 4.0, which seems impossible to me. New math?

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 02:45:45 PM PDT

    •  Worlds of differences in expectations (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      side pocket, annetteboardman, Orinoco

      that have gradually inflated over time.  The changes are not so much because of any flaws in public education as an institution, though those exist, but rather the inflation are results in the changing values in the larger society.

      More: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it?

      by blueoasis on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 03:29:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The GPAs > 4.0 represent honors work (7+ / 0-)

      The idea is that taking AP coursework, independent study or generic accelerated/advanced coursework merits a weighting factor. When that factor is applied, a GPA greater than 4.0 is possible.

    •  4.0 is the grade you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt, side pocket

      will get, if you got all A's in regular, college-prepatory classes.

      At my daughter's school, if it's an honors class, an A is actually worth 5.0.

      And if it's an Advance Placement class, it's a 6.0.

      (At the school where I student-taught, the 'bonuses' are a bit less than that, but it is still possible to get more than a 4.0).

      It was like this when I was in high school, too, at a selective private HS in the early 80s.

      "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

      by ChurchofBruce on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 08:24:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We had a multiplier system. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, side pocket

        "Above-grade" classes had a weight of 1.1; "honors" or AP classes had a weight of 1.15. So it boosted your grade, but not as much as at your daughter's school. We also had a system that started out at A+ = 4.5, A = 4, B+ = 3.5, etc.

    •  Over here in Germany, we definitely don't have it (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt, annetteboardman, side pocket

      In university courses, it is entirely normal to fail 20% of the students in a "mandatory" course. In some cases, the failure rate is over 50%. (Note: students must pass all mandatory courses to continue in a particular program. However, they get as many as five chances to do so!)

      As an example, in the recent exam I gave, the distribution was nearly uniform: roughly 20% of each grade "A" through "F" (or here, "1" to "5," with "1" corresponding to A and "5" corresponding to "F").

      In my elective courses, however, I tend to be more generous, both since the material is harder (it's a master's level elective course), and also because the level of effort is clearly greater: students have to complete an independent project on a topic they've chosen for themselves. If there are no major flaws in the work, and the report is well-written, they get an "A-." If the report is somewhat lacking, they get a "B+." If there are major scientific issues, the grade works out to a "B" or "B-." Grades lower than that usually only happen if a student is late submitting the final report.

      Note that I haven't said anything about the "A" grade. I do this intentionally: an "A" paper should be one that, essentially, could be submitted to a conference or journal with minimal polishing and editing. I've yet to give one of those, and I don't feel any strong compulsion to change that system.

      •  5 chances to pass (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman, AaronInSanDiego

        Over here, our students see that as 5 chances to spend thousands of dollars, and opt for easier instructors.  The quality of the education isn't as important as getting the credential for as little cost (both in money and time/effort) as possible, for a significant fraction of US students.  And our political and business elites have been pushing this idea - that education isn't valuable, except as far as you can translate it into a few dollars in your pocket and a lot of dollars in your employer's pocket.

        "And the President of the United States - would be seated right here. I would be here. And he would be here. I would turn - and there he’d be. I could pet ‘im." - Lewis Black

        by libdevil on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 11:58:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Accounting was much easier to grade (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, Orinoco, kurt

    You're right or you're wrong. I always provided a numerical evaluation and discussed that when I presented the test. I used it to grade, and an A was 90% or better.

  •  There are two obvious explanations for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nedsdag, Orinoco

    underachievement in writing an English paper. One is lack of attention to detail (failure to understand the assignment,) and the other is lack of motivation. I'm setting aside procrastination/laziness, since I consider those to be barriers to achievement at any level.

    When I was in freshman composition (several decades ago,) I only wanted to pass the class. I was a business major. I had the capacity to write A papers, but no interest in doing so.

    An instructor assigning a paper can really only address the understanding the assignment side of the issue. I've had teachers who issued incredibly detailed rubrics for their assignments and used phrases such as "Don't leave easy points on the table." I've had teachers who gave bare bones assignments and rewarded those who "created" a full-fledged assignment from that.

    An A is whatever you say it is. Personally, I prefer to be graded on a curve. It's fun to bend the curve upwards, and it's thrilling to squeak in with an A- when someone else bends the curve upwards.

  •  It's been a long time, since I was able to take (4+ / 0-)

    a very early retirement and for my own sanity's sake opted to do so, not because I didn't love teaching and all the demanding work that quality requires, but rather the exhausting energery to keep up the fight.

    The first major attitude change that I noticed among students, and these were in accelerated classes, was trying to elevate the "brown-nosing" to an art form, along with viewing grades as a thing rather than an achievement.
    I described it at the time that they would be happy to clean
    the rooms or any other sort of tasks for a grade rather than studying and learning.  An attitude that comparable students before would have despised, and even average ones thought silly.

    A very defining moment that stands out vividly in my mind from the early eighties was when I young man asked me very seriously, What is the least I can do in your class to make an A ?  That was one of the few times that I was totally speechless and it took me a few minutes to re-orient.

    That signaled the wave of somewhat less obvious but persistent attempts in every thing to aim for the lowest common denominator.

    I'll cut my commentary short, but in retrospect, if one considers what was happening in the larger society society at the time with Reaganism and even fundamentalism, we can better understand how and why these changes have occurred.

    All good, dedicated teachers like you have my sympathy and empathy and most of all respect.

    More: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it?

    by blueoasis on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 04:11:54 PM PDT

  •  What I liked about math as a major... (7+ / 0-)

    ...was that there were no research papers.  So I could take seven classes a quarter and finish in two years.

    As a teacher I like not having to grade said papers.

  •  What it “ought” to be in my opinion is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, Geenius at Wrok

    very different from the lay-out in the diary.

    I think that a C should be completely satisfactory in every way. Someone with a C average should be considered a satisfactory student. The other grades should be defined relative to that satisfactory level: a D is noticeable below and a B noticeably above a satisfactory level; an F is a complete failure and an A a remarkable success.

    Under such a system, there could be many cases where everyone in the class gets a C; this would be a satisfactory result, as would an average of C for the class, more or less, although in this case, those receiving less than C would not be at a satisfactory level.

    Furthermore, different types of classes require different levels, and there, it would be an administrative decision whether to grade the class according to the general norm or according to a class-specific norm. Sometimes one of these would be more appropriate than the other. So if it is a selective class, either for struggling or for superior students, it could be that according to the general norm, a satisfactory class average could be D or B, but according to a class-specific norm, it would just be a C. That is, same results, but graded either class-specifically or according to a general standard.

    Well, that's what I think.

    •  Nope (0+ / 0-)

      Everybody's above average now...

      "And the President of the United States - would be seated right here. I would be here. And he would be here. I would turn - and there he’d be. I could pet ‘im." - Lewis Black

      by libdevil on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 12:03:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I know what an "A" is not. (5+ / 0-)

    After a paper has been turned in, read, annotated, graded according to an established set of expectations and returned, an "A" is not when the student becomes an asshole while arguing that the professor/teacher is wrong for not grading the paper "A" in the first place.

  •  I teach English Composition I & II. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco

    This diary is helping me to re-evaluate my own essay grading rubric. It seems as if mine is not as lenient in regards to citing within the essay.

    Looking at your rubric, I am going to completely revamp my composition grading rubric for the following Fall semester.

    Thank you, annetteboardman.

    "Do they call you Rush because you're in a rush to eat?" -"Stutterin' John" Melendez to Rush Limbaugh.

    by Nedsdag on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 06:59:51 PM PDT

  •  I feel your pain.......In an age when (0+ / 0-)

    nobody hardly even gets a C anymore, the grade compression at the top must be like splitting hairs.

    Educators brought this quandary upon themselves.

    _"Love is the rosebud of an hour; Friendship the everlasting flower."_ Brook Boothby

    by Keith930 on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 07:38:15 PM PDT

    •  Tragedy of the commons (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt

      Let's stay that Eastern State and Western State give the same grade for the same work.  When their students graduate, students with the same talent get the same chance at jobs.  

      Then Eastern State decides to inflate its grades.  The average goes from 2.8 to 3.1.  Eastern State's grads get hired while Western State's get mired.

      So Eastern State inflates, from 2.8 to 3.3.  Now Western State's grads get hired while Eastern's get mired.  

      While a university's grade inflation decreases the value of the college degree in general, it increases the value of their own degree if measured as the increased probability of landing a "good" job.  That's how many students, alumni and legislators measure universities, by the way.

      "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

      by Yamaneko2 on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 10:46:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I admit I bend my scale a little, at times (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, jedennis

      Over the summer I had a class where I set the grading scale at 90/80/70/60.  At the end of the semester I had a distribution of grades that looked like 96, 91.5, 90.3, 89.8, 84, 83.3, 81, etc.

      The 89.8 got an A.  I couldn't, in my mind, justify giving a that student a different grade than the 90.3, and the same grade as the 84.  That student's work was much more similar to the A level work than it was to the work that earned Bs for other students.

      "And the President of the United States - would be seated right here. I would be here. And he would be here. I would turn - and there he’d be. I could pet ‘im." - Lewis Black

      by libdevil on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 12:10:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  930 - I disagree --- (0+ / 0-)

      -- that teachers brought this on themselves.  Rather is was administrators and school boards exerting great pressure on teachers to respond to the demands of parents wanting "the grades necessary" for getting into the college of choice, etc.

      I saw that pressure first hand on good teachers who expected quality work from their students who were told by the building administrator "your expectations are too high, -- student "x,y or z" is a good kid and his/her parents are very upset because their child has never gotten anything less than "A".  You need to reevaluate grading standards that you are using."   It didn't matter if the student had never before taken a truly challenging academic class before such chemistry, physics, pre-calculus or honors english.  If the teacher didn't make the "suggested" changes, they would soon find themselves with reassignment to a school farthest from their home, or an added "study hall" period full of troubled students, dishonest negative comments on their annual evaluation, etc.

      The vast majority of teachers really try to do what's best for students, but in the end they can only do what society at large is willing to accept.

      There are a lot of ways to succeed, but one sure way to fail is to quit.

      by jedennis on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 03:48:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Grade inflation pressure comes from above (0+ / 0-)

        State funding is often contingent on "learning outcomes". Profs who are aware of these stats can easily connect college funding to successful outcomes, i.e. good grades.

        I never liked you and I always will.

        by Ray Blake on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 05:47:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I separate content from mechanics. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chancew, kurt, Geenius at Wrok, badscience

    When I grade term papers, I allot 25% to mechanics and 75% to content. The 25% for mechanics should be easy to get, if the student follows the style guide (Turabian or APA), has no typos, misspellings, run-on sentences, or awkward or incomprehensible phrasing. The 75% for content includes mastery of the material, detail of observation, presentation of argument, insight, and depth of analysis. The highest score for content goes only to papers from which I learn something.

    I also believe in the value of rewriting. So, I offer students the opportunity to submit a preliminary draft, to which I respond as an informed reader familiar with the field. Students who take advantage of submitting a preliminary draft have an additional learning experience — one that many of them need.

    Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

    by JayC on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 07:45:30 PM PDT

    •  That value of rework is not to be underestimated. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman

      Just as students are finishing something, they are beginning to "get it" and, sadly, turning in the work stops them from learning beyond what they got up to that point. They wash their hands of it, mostly.

      Unless they have the option and choose to, or are required to, rework it.

      I always allow students to rework their projects, but few of them take me up on it.

  •  Yeah yeah yeah put the work in (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, kurt

    blah blah blah.

    I get A's on papers (and I'm an English major) that I write the day before they're due. One of the advantages to being a really friggin' smart college student who also happens to be 48 and has written his whole life. I can write anything. And essay questions on tests? Thank goodness for 'em. Even if I botch an ID or two because I didn't study, I can count on full marks on the essay. (If it's a research paper, I do actual work on the research part, but if I can't write a page per half-hour and still get an A, there's something wrong :)).

    "Hard work is for people who are short on talent"--George Carlin :D

    So, how do I get A's? GTPWTW. Give The Professor What They Want. Easy, really--but, then again, I also read the directions :). And the actual mechanics of writing academic papers--grammar, style, flow--comes as natural to me as breathing.

    Now, when I was student-teaching last semester, I did rubrics. I followed those rubrics quite closely when I was grading. However, the ones who didn't at least get Bs...they didn't follow the directions. Give Me What I Want, and you get a B. The difference between B up to A is how well you gave me what I wanted.

    "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

    by ChurchofBruce on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 08:35:09 PM PDT

    •  Last class I taught (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, ChurchofBruce

      This was in 1975, a second semester calculus course. It was an evening class and the students were mostly older than college age.
      It soon became evident that students wanted to see how little work they could get by with. The department gave me a homework assignment list, so I did assign homework. When I entered the classroom there would be few or no homework papers turned in. I would ask "Are there any homework papers?" and papers would start trickling in. I was a bit cautious, because there was a possibility everyone would drop the couse. I thought about asking "Do you know what I would do if I were a member of this class?" "I would turn in every homework paper and probably make the highest grade."
      Well, when it came time to award grades, it was almost all C's, with a sprinking of B's and D's. No A's. I don't recall any F's. This was in a time of grade inflation, when some colleagues of mine were giving all A's.

      Censorship is rogue government.

      by scott5js on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 09:17:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where I teach, math homework mandatory. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        scott5js

        Where I teach, giving and checking math homework is mandatory.  You can get away with giving full marks if the student worked on the problem

        Homework is only 15% of the grade, however.  The average grade in most courses in my department is usually a C -- one semester only 30% of students passed college algebra with a C or better, the rest failing or withdrawing.

        "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

        by Yamaneko2 on Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 10:50:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Math is different (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman, scott5js

        I was specifically talking about writing papers and essays. I actually have to do actual work in objective-answer classes (which I have, happily, been done with for a few semesters now :)).

        Homework in most lit classes is reading, which I do do diligently. I just don't waste extra time writing, because I know how easy As are on writing assignments for me.

        I have a 3.7, by the way, so I'm doing something right :D.

        And, honestly, being an older-than-college-age student, yes, we look for ANY shortcut. Because syllabuses are geared to our 20-year-old classmates who don't have families and either don't have jobs or have part-time jobs (most of them) and whose biggest decision is homework or beer. That's who the syllabus is designed for. I take every shortcut I can take, because I'm too old for this shit and I have a life :)

        "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

        by ChurchofBruce on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 11:47:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  My experiences with homework (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman

        I got my B. A. and M. A. at The University of Texas. The mathematics courses (my major) often did not have homework per se, but theorems were given us to prove on a volunteer basis. These were pure math courses that had mostly math majors.
        The chemistry dependment (my minor) was pretty much the opposite. Students had to tow the line: there were homework and pop quizzes.
        I taught math at 2 junior colleges where my policies were like the UT Chemistry Department. With advanced math courses my style was looser.
        I got out of teching because I was not finding a suitable PhD advisor and because I was tired of having captive audiences.
        After some 30 years I still persue mathematics as a hobby: mainly algebraic numbers and group theory.

        Censorship is rogue government.

        by scott5js on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 03:18:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A little context (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Foothills of Oblivion
    An A to me is an outstanding grade.  It doesn't mean just that you have done everything that is required."
    "

    Reaching back a few years to my undergraduate work. I attended an institution which had a somewhat more rigorous grading standard, than standard.

    I do not have the numbers off hand, but the exactness of the situation I doubt would really make the example any more illustrative.  

    So lets assume for whatever reason, the institution in question graduates students with an average GPA of a 3.0. Now lets also assume that the average institution, with the same program and the same reputation and same education quality graduates student with an average GPA of 3.2

    While a few recruiters me be aware of this average divergence, the majority will not. This hurts the prospects of your graduates for no good reason. It is unfair to needlessly put your graduates at an unfair disadvantage.

    The short of my point is that in any grading standard you must also consider what the global standard is outside of your own classroom or institution.  Grades matter. Even if you are severing your students well by helping them grow and giving a good education, you can be providing a disservice by providing a grade which is not informative for recruiters, scholarship committees, and admissions staff.  

    "
    "There should be clear organization, no major (and very few minot) questions about your accuracy, and it should not have any grammatical issues that interfere with my ability to follow your argument. "
    "

    I find it interesting that you seem to imply you concentrate much of your grading on things outside of pure content.

    I imagine I am not in your field and this is only from  my personal experience. So the real world situation made be different in your industry but..... The fixation on grammar and spelling by the academic world is not reflected in the corporate world. The movers and shakers in the companies I have been involved with seem to mostly communicate in broken English... at best.  The only time spell check is even a question is when they pass a document over to one of their underlings to do a proof read. This is not considered a prestigious task.

    •  I do concentrate much of my grading (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt

      on items beyond content.  Many of my students actually "get" content but they are sloppy and don't follow directions.  They won't get a job if their letters of application are poorly written.  You need the entry jobs to get the exec position.  

      And a lot of my students will not do another class in the major; the skills they gain in writing, citation form, etc., will be things they can apply in the future in their other classes.

    •  No kidding. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      O112358

      I have been a student and have taught up and down the academic ladder, and my observations mirror yours pretty much exactly.

      My undergrad degree, from a selective public college, left me with an uninflated B- GPA.  A million years later I did graduate work in two universities, one public-Ivy, the other, actual Ivy.  (A couple of decades' interesting work got me into both without even taking the GRE.)

      The public universities liked to show their programs' worth by grading hard, making students sweat, etc. I learned a lot. But it took me a million years after the B.A. to feel worthy enough to apply to a graduate program anywhere.

      The Ivy grad faculty expected everyone in the program to be a freakin' genius, treated us like colleagues and graded accordingly. I learned a lot and was, well, happy there.

      I made a conscious decision, long ago, to teach and grade  with the generosity of my best elite professors. I think it's given a lot of shaky students a taste of what's possible if they decide to persevere.

      •  Your details sound similar to me. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc

        In particular

        "My undergrad degree, from a selective public college, left me with an uninflated B- GPA.  

        The public universities liked to show their programs' worth by grading hard, making students sweat, etc. "

        My undergraduate work was done at a private technical institution in the north east. While not MIT, a solid second tier school with a good regional name. In order to get over what I would call a "napoleon complex" compared to MIT, Cornell, Columbia etc. the institution I believe makes the grading standards a little too unforgiving.

         The regional name has somewhat compensated for the  grade deflation. Also I have managed to compensate for my lower than expected undergraduate GPA by achieving a  significantly higher graduate GPA. But even still, when I have to enter those magic numbers on any forms I know that particular metric will haunt me.

        My 3.25 is respectable , but I am fairly sure it has cost me a few opportunities even when pared with my 3.8 graduate and 790/800 quant GRE. For whatever reasons the undegraduate GPA seems to be prioritized.

        Ideological purity has no leg to stand on when students are trusting their careers in an institution's hands. The institution's have a responsibility to prepare their graduates for the next stages of their development.. Part of that is giving graduates grades which are informative to the people looking at them.

        (Let me also be clear I was not accusing annetteboardman of this. Their post just touched an idea in my head. )

        This topic also has significant implications not just for individual students, but institutions and industries as a whole. At least from my own experience it has gotten to the point where my associates and friends from developing nations will openly joke that reported grades from their home nations have zero validity.

        Perhaps I am full of shit and my undergraduate institution does not have a grading problem. Somehow clarity needs to be injected into this system. Right now I can make that accusation and their is no public information to disprove it.... That is not how the situation should be. The system needs accountability.  

        •  Hello, I just found your reply! (0+ / 0-)

          The problem with privilege is its way of getting into everything, whether we need it or not. Educated, prosperous parents provide their kids with a basic advantage just by being who they are -- big vocabularies, know the ropes, access -- and then they see to it that their kids' schools and teachers and coaches and bus drivers are also impressive. And they expect excellent outcomes and pressure whoever needs pressuring to see that those things happen. And they hire tutors and test prep help and send their kids on unpaid internships that look good on the college applications and and and and so plutocracy.

          And public education for everyone else crowds its classrooms, under-supports its teachers, and imposes grading rubrics that make sense only if the goal is to keep the haves happy and the have-nots convinced that they might have done better if they'd only made the grade.

          Next big thing?

    •  Indexed transcripts can address this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman

      Not many schools do it, but there are some that "index" transcripts so that every grade shows the median grade for that section, and the overall GPA is reported against a median as well. That practice more than adequately accounts for variations between schools for anyone who is using the GPA to evaluate a graduate, if only more schools would adopt the practice.

      "Take it easy-- but take it!" --Woody Guthrie

      by Mr Green Jeans on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 07:04:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I once interviewed with a principal (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, ER Doc

    to whom I asked this very question. She replied, "93 percent." Even when I tried to clarify that I was asking what kind of work should earn an A, what the definition of top-quality work should be, she simply reiterated her answer, "93 percent." I unilaterally terminated the interview at that point and left. I had no desire to work for such a small-minded person.

    In my grading philosophy, an A means you exceeded expectations on most measures. Actually, I don't even like letter grades; I prefer minus, equal and plus marks (fell short of expectations, met expectations, exceeded expectations), with a separate mark for every criterion being graded. Thus, on a writing assignment, a student in a regular class might get a B, but a student in my class might get pluses in ideas, voice and word choice and equals in organization, sentence flow and mechanics. (I consider a plus to be equivalent to an A, equal to be equivalent to a C and minus to be equivalent to an F. There is no B or D in my system, except as an average of other scores. If you surpass expectations, you get full plus credit.)

    I think this system is both simpler and more honest than conventional letter grades, but the pushback I got from parents and administrators was ferocious and dispiriting. Yet another reason I'm kind of glad I washed out of teaching.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 05:42:51 AM PDT

  •  I could go on and on about this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, ER Doc

    and have, in the past, on my own blog, which I won't link here because it would spoil my pseudonym. I couldn't agree more that an "A" should represent, in the context of performance-based assessment, the best work in the class. If your paper is the best in the class, you get an A; if it's not, you get something less than an A. In many cases, no one gets an A because no one's paper meets the criteria for an A. An A is not an achievement if a majority of the class gets one.

    I taught in New York City schools for most of my career, where my supervisors largely left me alone as far as assessment rubrics and grade distribution were concerned. I held all students to the same objective standards, based on the New York ELA Regents rubrics; the grade you got in my class was approximately the grade you could expect to get on that exam. [This is not the same as "teaching-to-the-test," mind you; the ELA was a performance-based exam, not a content-based exam; it was actually a very good measurement of students' literacy skills, and was never the same test twice, i.e., the tasks remained the same, but the materials were different every time.]

    However, during the very brief time I taught in the suburbs, I was required to give as many A's (or 100's; letter grades were forbidden in favor of numerical) as possible; the expectation was that most students should get a 100 on any assessment I gave them, and performance-based assessments were essentially forbidden. The theory was that if a student did not get a 100, then whatever they had "gotten wrong" was attributable to my failure to, essentially, give them the "right" answer in advance. In other words, I was not permitted to evaluate students' responses, any kind of response, to any question to which I had not already given them the "right" answer.

    It was a frustrating experience, to say the least, especially as a teacher of English Language Arts, a discipline in which most things are not subject to binary characterizations, and written responses usually cannot rightly be characterized as "right" or "wrong." The belief there was that any non-binary assessment of student work (i.e., any measurement that was not strictly "right" or "wrong") was, quote, "subjective" and therefore unfair and unjustifiable. The requirement that numerical percentage grades be used, instead of letter grades which make more sense in terms of designating levels of performance, made it even harder and more counter-intuitive.

    The students there expected a 100, and the English Department chairperson expected them to get a 100, when "you have done everything that is required." Needless to say, they hated me.

    I may diary this subject later. Thanks for bringing it up.

    •  I look forward to your diary (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc

      That will be an interesting discussion.

    •  I typically "give" abound 5% A grades (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman

      Though the pressure of inflation is always there, in my world it tends to come at the bottom. The average grade is this around a B- in most classes (rather than C) but I have spent 20 years in higher ed defending the meaning of the A grade. In practice-- for me at least --the As are about 5% of the class when the semester is over, sometimes as much as 10% in a small seminar with really good students. But if I went back through the grade spreadsheets for all of my classes (probably nearing 100 by now) I'd be surprised if any of them exceeded 10% A grades overall.

      I have a reputation among students for being demanding, and course evaluations that say things like "I worked harder in this class than any other," but I also think students respect high standards and know they earned that B+ when it comes.

      "Take it easy-- but take it!" --Woody Guthrie

      by Mr Green Jeans on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 07:09:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Completely sympathetic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, ER Doc

    I got some papers that were nearly word for word from a couple of students.  Since it was a draft, I just sent them back to be redone.  What floored me was the explanation I was given.  The students, I'm told, hadn't copied each off one another.  No, instead they'd copied the class notes of another instructor on campus, and so it should be OK.  Sometimes, I just don't know what to do to reach my students.

    "And the President of the United States - would be seated right here. I would be here. And he would be here. I would turn - and there he’d be. I could pet ‘im." - Lewis Black

    by libdevil on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 11:53:24 AM PDT

  •  college in the 70's-- (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, ER Doc

    I had a number of professors, mostly in the psychology department, who experimented with different ways of grading.  The one I think I liked best, although it was very tough, was an Experimental Psychology Class.

    There were lectures and a book called The Game of Science by McCain and Segal,  and we were assessed every few weeks on the lectures and we had to get 90% on these for the C level work.

    There was another text and you worked on reading the chapters on your own and came in every week and took an essay test on this with only 1 or 2 questions maybe.  You had to get a 90% on this for the B level work.  

    There was additional work to get an A and it involved further reading you did on your own with a couple of tests and maybe a project, I can't remember for sure.  That was the A work.  

    I was taking 18 hours of grad school, first semester in Speech-Language Pathology and just taking this as an elective and I didn't have time to do the A work so I took the B. But boy did I ace those B level tests.  The professor asked me a couple of times if I would consider changing majors.  

    Loved the class, loved the grading method, and loved the teacher.  Learned a lot about research that I have never forgotten to this day.  

  •  It seems to me that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc

    it is just a fact of life that learners are going to have their own agendas.  When they are put into classes not entirely of their own choosing, whether because it is a gen ed requirement or because they are still in K-12,  they may or may not care about their grades.  Grades are not integral to learning, they are just part of the system we currently have.  

    I do therapy where I help children and adults learn all the time.  They learn to read, to write, to spell, to speak, etc.

    I never issue any grades.  I only share progress data I am keeping for payor sources occasionally when it seems it will be helpful to the process.  One child I work with has been working on increasing his Words Correct Per Minute during oral reading.   I made him a graph and he is enjoying doing the computation and drawing the points on the graph of his progress.  But this kind of thing happens rarely.  

    One girl recently was reading some graded word lists and I was counting her percentage for the lists, eg. 50% of the third grade list.  She is in fifth grade and was aware-- more than in our typical sessions where I don't have any particular grade level assigned to the work--that she was not performing as well as other girls her age.  She looked up and for the first time in the several years I have worked with her and said, "Is this going to count on my grade?"  I asked, "You mean at school?"  She said , "Yes."  I explained that nothing we did in therapy had anything to do with her school grades and that I kept track of her progress so I could show to the people paying for therapy (Medicaid) that she was learning something in therapy so they would keep paying for her therapy.  We had more discussion about learning and grades and how you can learn when you are not being graded and she charmingly said, "Yes! You can even learn stuff just going to Wal Mart!"

  •  A is for Average (0+ / 0-)

    Check out any study that includes data on grade distributions.  I have done such studies in my line of work.

    "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1. Keep the faith.

    by Tonga 23 on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 03:26:49 PM PDT

  •  Never taught and it's been decades since (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman

    I took a class for a grade, but I really admire your ability to articulate your grading standards. Any of us who are required to evaluate any kind of work should strive to be so rigorous and consistent.
    I'm sure your students consider you tough but fair --- except for maybe the ones who thought they were taking Art History for a mick. (Does anyone still say "mick"? Yes, I know I could look that up in Urban Dictionary, and maybe I will later.)
    BTW, the professors who wrote all over my papers because they were frustrated at my evident laziness are the ones I learned the most from, eventually.

    "Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous." -- Molly Ivins

    by dumpster on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 05:51:17 PM PDT

  •  It's been a long time since I was in school (0+ / 0-)

    but I don't think most of my teachers had such high standards for getting an 'A'. My GPA overall was not good, but I think I did well in courses such as art history. I don't think I would have done as well if the professors had used the standards you use. But I had other problems, such as not turning in required assignments, that sometimes made no difference to my grade, and sometimes ruined it. Maybe if they had been more consistent at maintaining high standards, I would have risen to the challenge and still done OK.

    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

    by AaronInSanDiego on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:02:03 AM PDT

  •  My grading standards (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman

    I'm a long-tenured professor at a liberal arts college. My own "standards" are fairly traditional, and though while the average grade in my courses is long longer a "C" only about 5% in a given semester earn "A" grades. Given our emphasis on personal attention and quality instruction (and my own on never giving exams, but only essays) a student would really have to try to earn a grade lower than a B- since every assignment longer than three pages comes with drafts, feedback, and opportunities for revision. But an "A" grade to me still means what it says in our catalog: "exceptional."

    I've worked at places where the standard has been expressed as "C=write like a student," "B=write like the professor," and "A=write better than the professor." That's not realistic for most schools though. In practice, at least at places that emphasize an interactive learning process, I think the average grade is going to end up in the low "B" range. But we can still make the expectations for earning an "A" rigorous as there is always room for improvement and even the best students need something to strive for in class.

    "Take it easy-- but take it!" --Woody Guthrie

    by Mr Green Jeans on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 07:00:25 AM PDT

    •  Pretty much my average (0+ / 0-)

      Although I do end up with 10-15% As, the average in almost every class is a low B.  More Bs than Cs, more Cs than As, and usually fewer Ds than As (although there have been problem classes...).  Few Fs.  It takes abdication to get an F.  Usually.  I have been known to not round up to a D when a student is really angry about the grade he or she has earned.  

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