Zeroing the curve

April 16, 2004

I hate this part about teaching, especially at the adjunct level.

The kids read an easy book, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I then had them write an easy paper: "How did the Great War change the surviving members of Paul Baumer's Generation". Not surprisingly, almost all the kids repeated Remarque's argument about a lost generation.

Now I have to grade them. I have already read them and ranked them and made a few notes about things they did well and things they did not do so well. But the kids want a letter grade.

Historically, I save an A for the top 3% to 5% of my students, A- for the top 10 to 15%, and B+ for the rest of the top quarter.

Historically we give a straight C for someone who can read an easy book and recap the argument. Most of the kids did that, and that is really all I asked them to do. If I hand out fifty Cs I will face a mutiny, and rightly so.

Of the sixty-odd students who turned in papers, one is superior, three are better than the rest, and five are just under the top group. Is that an A, 3 A-, and five B+ or is it four As and five A- out of sixty papers?

I will probably go with the second curve, which means that at the end of the semester I will have to add a new column to my private grade sheet, and place these sixty students on my lifetime percentile chart so that if asked I can write a meaningful letter of recommendation.

Because, these days with grade inflation, the grade just does not matter. What matters is the teacher's willingness to say "so and so is in the top 25% of students I have ever taught; their work shows these traits ..."

Still, it would be convenient if we had a standard scale relating those hard percentile judgements with the softer letters that hit the formal GPA.

Done ranting. I will grade up on this paper and down on the final. The final is gonna be a bear.

The next time I teach Western Civ I will either not assign AQWF or come up with a more challenging paper topic.

Posted by Red Ted at April 16, 2004 12:05 PM | TrackBack