Monday, December 22, 2008

An incomplete understanding

Not making the grade

Every semester ends in the same way, with students grubbing for grades. Or, less commonly, seeking no grade at all. This year one of my students did both. First she asked for special consideration:
From: Kaye Ducky
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:23 PM
To: Ferox, Zeno
Subject: Calculus III grade

Prof Z

I know that the end of the semester has come. I have studied very hard this last chapter to try and improve my grade. It seems that I still struggled with the quizzes and the test. With the final tomorrow I am studying for hours but wonder if there is any possibility for me to pas with a C without having to get 100 percent on the final? Please let me know if there is something we might be able to do. I would really like to pass with a c seeing as this is my second to last semester. I have worked hard but I know my grades don't seem to show that. I have struggled and hope there is something we can work out.

Thank you
K

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Studying very hard is all very nice. I would have been more impressed if the studying had been accompanied with class attendance. Pissing away 5% of her grade by skipping an assignment was also a bad move.

I tried to let her down gently:
From: Zeno Ferox [zenoferox@sbcglobal.net]
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 2008 01:54:59
To: Kaye Ducky
Subject: RE: Calculus III grade

For all of the obvious reasons, Kaye, teachers are careful to avoid making special arrangements at the end of the semester when it comes to assigning grades. The key factor is student equity. I can't provide you with any special accommodations that don't equally apply to your classmates.

As you pointed out, it's really too late to change anything now, although I would have strongly suggested better attendance. You say that you've been working hard and I have no reason to doubt you, but you haven't had the connection with the material that would have made your work pay off. The classroom was one of the best opportunities to see the techniques in action during problem sessions and quiz reviews. For future reference, I'd suggest you try to manage your classload so that you don't overextend yourself and can give each course the attention it requires.

Can you pass this class? As we both know, the grade spreadsheet says No, because it gives your final exam target score as being over 100%. While I sometimes give a little extra credit on final exams, I'm not a big believer in extra credit and it probably wouldn't be enough anyway. However, you should still take the final and show me how well you can solve multivariate calculus problems. If you do extremely well and push your score up near the boundary between C and D, I can consider whether you've demonstrated that you've almost earned a C and made it defensible to award you that grade. I never promise anything in advance, though. I need to see results.

Good luck.

-Z-

Kaye then moved on to Plan B. Actually, perhaps it was Plan C. Now she hoped I could let her off the hook for the time being:
From: Kaye Ducky
Sent: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 2:01 PM
To: Ferox, Zeno
Subject: Re: Calculus III grade

Thank you for your honest response. If for some reason I am not able to pass with a C would it be possible to receive an incomplete rather than a grade so that I may return next semester and improve?

Thank you again
K

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Students never seem to understand a grade of “Incomplete.” They think it's a kind of port of last resort where they can weather the storm and take on some extra points. I have no idea why they think that.
From: Zeno Ferox [zenoferox@sbcglobal.net]
Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2008 11:51:50
To: Kaye Ducky
Subject: RE: Calculus III grade

You're welcome, Kaye. As you know, I posted the course grades this weekend and you were not able to pass with a C. However, I could not give you an Incomplete. The reason for that is very simple: The grade of Incomplete is given only in the case of a student whose studies are interrupted by an emergency (family, medical, etc.) but is doing passing work at the time. We cannot use an Incomplete with a student who is not earning at least a C.

In any case, an Incomplete merely puts your class in the deep freeze until the emergency is over and you can complete it. There's nothing left to complete after you've taken the entire course and its exams, so an Incomplete makes no sense.

You're better off with a fresh start anyway, since an Incomplete keeps all your old exam grades and stuff in place instead of letting you replace them. I'm confident you'll do better next time under better circumstances.

Good luck.

-Z-

Kaye didn't learn calculus this semester, but she may have learned something about fairness and grading policies.

3 comments:

Minerva Cathubodva said...

Kaye didn't learn calculus this semester, but she may have learned something about fairness and grading policies.

Dream on, Prof. Z. She learned that some professors are difficult. May she someday learn that all professors are equally difficult... but maybe she's too close to graduation to accept that.

Anonymous said...

Zeno,
It does my heart good to read your blog and to know that teachers like you exist. A "nontraditional" student (i.e. mid-life career changer), I'm currently in my last semester of nursing school and am appalled by the amount of whining, wheedling, begging, crying, and pleading that my classmates feel obliged to engage in when it comes to grades. In the past, when they have marveled at my good grades, I've mentioned how hard I study. Now I know to save my breath.
Marcia

Sili said...

"pissing"?

My, my, my ...