If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. I love teaching; I hate grading. Over the years, I have devised ways to pare down the task or eliminate it altogether. “Devise” is the perfect word choice, since many of these are actually quite devious. But at this point, three months from retirement, what can they do to me? I am ready to share my secrets.
My quibbles with grading are numerous, but boil down to two issues. The first is that in my courses, students do not take the kinds of tests where a numerical score or letter grade is meaningful. Decades ago, I taught design courses. as I shifted more into cultural studies, I assigned research papers, multimedia projects, portfolios, and reflective journals. When I give the rare exam, it’s essay, not short-answer, true/false, or multiple choice tests. I will happily write a detailed written evaluation of a student's work, but translating that into a number or a letter (which is then turned into a number when their GPA is calculated) is beyond irritating.
The second problem with grading is that, in my opinion, most students are too focused on grades as a proxy for learning. It seemed no matter what I did, after an exam or project, I was more likely to be asked "what can I do to raise this to an A", than any other question. This only got worse in 1999, when the University of Maryland adopted plus/minus grading, supposedly to curb grade inflation. (Ha ha ha!). At first all letter grades in the same range (B-, B, B+) had the same point value. Eventually, the policy was changed so that they were weighted differently. This resulted in a lot frenzied calculations when grades came out, like this one from the UM Reddit forum:
If anyone can answer this it"ll be really helpful, I came away with two A-, two b flats and an A. It comes down to a 3.48 overall if the deans list is 3.5 did i not make it?
This would be followed by an email to all of the instructors, in search of relief so that the student could make Dean's List/keep their athletic eligibility/get into med school. They all have reasons. At first I tried just incorporating them into my existing grading scheme. The result was that every student who got a B+ or C+ came knocking on my door for a few more points so they get a higher letter grade. So would a few others whose GPAs came up a fraction short of some cutoff. At the end of the fall semester, I even had students who emailed me ON CHRISTMAS EVE to lobby for a higher grade.
Devious solution #1. I stopped giving plus grades. If a student fell into the plus range, they would either be given the higher minus grade, or the lower flat grade, depending on how their work compared to others in those ranges. I only did this for a couple of semesters, until I came up with Devious solution #2. (coming soon...)
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