Theirs not to reason why
Consider, if you will, the following numbers: 108, 111, 126, 128, 134, 150, 161. Notice anything special about them?
Technically, they should all have percent symbols after them, as they are target scores from the most recently posted rankings in my elementary algebra class. These scores are accompanied by a bit of text explaining that each student's number is “the score you need to earn on all remaining exams (including the final) to get the indicated grade.” The “indicated grade” in this instance? A letter grade of C. The minimum passing grade that secures academic credit for the course and meets the prerequisite requirement for subsequent course work.
That's right: seven of my students must earn more than 100% of the points on all remaining semester exams—including the final—if they are to eke out C grades. Do I give that much extra credit? Don't make me laugh. (Or cry.) Extra credit is a scam by which meaningless grades are earned. I don't play that game.
It's not a large class. The seven doomed students signify that this semester I have one-third of my algebra students irredeemably on the road to failure. It is not mathematically possible for them to pass the class. Although we have weeks to go in the term, they have already dug heroically deep holes.
For example, the student who needs to score 108% on the remaining chapter tests and final exam has, to date, averaged only 55%, approximately half of what she needs to accomplish in the future. She is, by the way, the only one of my seven predestined failures who has stopped coming to class. While she hasn't officially dropped the course yet, she at least has stopped spinning her wheels and I hope she is using the time to good advantage in some other class. (It took me a while to be sure she had really stopped attending, since she is my notorious Tuesday-Thursday girl.)
The other six, however, still come pointlessly to class. Their attendance is spotty, which is part of the reason they got into their current situation, but all six were in class this week. The benighted fellow who serve as the class caboose is chronically late—when he shows up at all—but he dutifully racks up his 22% average on exams while actually needing 161%.
I would like to tell you that I wish I had made the situation clearer and that I wish my students had paid more attention to the student scores posted on the classroom wall.
But I can't tell you any of that because I don't wish any of the above things. You see, I did make the situation clear. I told one student after another his or her target scores. I did not skip the failing students. They know their target scores are beyond reach because I told them that their target scores are beyond reach.
They appear not to understand what it all means, and I presume that their deep-seated innumeracy is a major symptom of their academic ills. I fully expect the stubborn six to flame out catastrophically on the final exam and then bewail their flunking grades by telling me it's unfair. After all, some of them attended most of our class sessions.
I can attest that I saw them there in class. And I must say that they tend to keep their desks very nice and clean, clear of all clutter such as textbooks or notepads. It leaves more room for their cell phones, iPods, and morning coffee.
I regard it as one of teaching's cardinal sins to dismiss a student's chances of success and to give up on them. But my stubborn six remain oblivious and are obviously entirely beyond my reach. It would be unseemly of me to pound my head on the chalkboard.
Into the valley of F
Rode the six flunkers.