Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ex Post Factor

Too much, too late

Some of my students never quite go away. This can be a good thing, such as when those students become friends whose company and communications you enjoy. A couple of my best friends are former students from several years ago. Then there are the others. The ones who excel in the long goodbye.

Please go away.

One of my calculus students from last semester cannot seem to let go. In his case, a pratfall on the final exam resulted in his getting a C in the class. Before that, a B had been well in hand. (His position would have been even stronger had he shown more of his work. I had to break him of the habit of just writing down calculator answers for definite integrals.)

He was understandably dismayed when grades were posted and he discovered that his D− on the final exam had dragged him down to a C+.

And then we became pen-pals. His first message was posted the day after Christmas:
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Friday, December 26, 2008 9:52 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: Cumulative Gradesheet

Would it be possible for you to send out the cumulative gradesheet, with our final, so we may double check our grades again?

Thx,
Joe Jack
But I had already e-mailed everyone the semester results, complete with final exam scores. The request puzzled me, but it was simpler to respond directly rather than ask what he meant.
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2008 22:06:09

Hi, Joe. I did send out the cumulative grade sheet, complete with a separate column for your final exam score. It should have popped into your campus e-mail last Saturday. In case you didn't get it, I also posted it on my course web site. Click here.

-Z-

Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
zenoferox@sbcglobal.net
It turned out that Joe hadn't meant the cumulative grade-sheet after all. He explained that he actually wanted to see the spreadsheet printout that I had posted in the classroom during the last week of class. It contained every score recorded in my gradebook. Each student could find the row of data labeled with his or her student ID number and ascertain that I had recorded all the points to which they were entitled. But Joe hadn't really bothered.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2008 5:27 AM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

Yes I did get the one, I meant the one with each individual score for each quiz, HW, exam and so on. I'm so close to a B (79.5%) that I want to double check everything to see if there might have been a slight error that would move me up that 0.5 %.

Joe
I chided him gently.
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2008 12:26:37

Okay, Joe, now I understand. It would have been so much better if you had bothered to check it while I had it posted on the classroom wall during the last week of the semester (and before I filed the grades). Nevertheless, I won't deny one of my students to opportunity to do some double-checking, even if it's after the fact. The raw-score file is attached. You'll need to find about 20 missing points in the homework & quiz scores to raise you up to 80.0 and I don't think that is at all likely. But let me know if you discover anything. Keep in mind that I don't simply "round up" scores to give students a higher course grade when the final exam grade is so much lower. You actually have to find points that I forgot to record or entered incorrectly.

-Z-

Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
zenoferox@sbcglobal.net
Joe admitted he hadn't bothered to check before. Not really.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:29 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

I did check that one on the wall but it was more of a scan to see if it all looked decent. Sorry.

Joe
But I was in a charitable mood. (Not enough to give him a higher grade, but enough to forgive him his youthful fecklessness.)
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2008 21:45:36

No need to apologize, Joe. I can't blame you for wanting to check and double-check.

-Z-

Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
zenoferox@sbcglobal.net
I assumed that our correspondence was over. Days passed with no further missives from Joe Jack. Then, two weeks after his last e-mail, Joe struck again. This time, finally, he had something. Good for him! Unfortunately, it wasn't much. I had indeed omitted one of his scores—and he hadn't bothered to take an earlier opportunity to correct it.
From: *joe* *jack*
Sent: Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:42 PM
To: Dr. Z
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

I did find one error on Q34, I have a 8/10 and it's blank on your grade sheet. I was looking back through the syllabus to see if you had listed how you weigh HW, Quizzes, Exams, and the Final but I did not see it. I don't know if you would mind but could you tell me how you set that up so I can do the math myself please? I'll need to know the grade I got on the final too so I can compute it.

Thank you,
Joe Jack
Not encouraging. He hadn't found many points and he didn't know how to read the syllabus. And he had forgotten his final exam score again. I think I see the source of his problem. It was part of the same pattern. Why didn't he put in this much effort before the end of the semester?
From: "Dr. Z"
To: "Joe Jack"
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)
Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 00:11:39

Thanks for the information about Q34, Joe. I think that was the one that I handed back before I remembered to record the grades and had people bring them back in to me. I did not notice that you had not done that. I'll add it into my gradebook for the sake of completeness, but it won't change your overall score significantly since it's only one out of forty quiz scores and quizzes have such a low weight in grades.

The syllabus does contain the weights. It's on the first page in the Grading section: 65% for exams, 20% for the final, and 15% for everything else (quizzes, homework, etc). As for your grade on the final exam, it was included in the grade report that I sent out to everyone: 63%.

-Z-

Zeno Ferox
LCC Math Dept
zenoferox@sbcglobal.net
Joe wrote me back the next day.
From: Joe Jack
To: Dr. Z
Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 08:20:01
Subject: RE: Cumulative Gradesheet (Engr Calc)

Thank you for all the information, the math looks correct.

Joe
Damn right it's correct.

8 comments:

Sili said...

I'm pretty sure we had a deadline for filing complaints after the marks were up (but this was at uni, I have no idea how it might have worked in 6th form).

I only went through it once - in my second year - for the linear algebra exam. I don't recall the issue any longer, but I did get a marked up one point on the 9 point scale used back then. (We now have a 7 point scale that's supposed to get us in line with the rest of the EU - and disadvantage Danish students less relative to Swedes when applying to majors with entry restrictions - but of course they couldn't just call it A-F! Nooooo, they had to translate it into numerical grades just like in the past. With *two* failing grades so that one could send a signal to the almost-got-there-s.) Whine, whine, gripe, gripe.

ods15 said...

Did you say *forty* quizzes??

How long is the course? How often do you do quizzes?

I'm currently in first semester, we've had a total of 2 quizzes in 2 different subjects, out of 4. And from what I understand, that was irregularly high, usually there is none at all. Pretty much the whole grade in all subjects is just the final exam.

Zeno said...

Yes, Ods15, I did say "forty". It was a full-semester five-unit course that met seventy times and I'm counting homework assignments and all the take-homes, too, of which there were several. Most days we started with a short quiz. They kept things moving, encouraged attendance, and signaled what I'd be putting on the exams.

Anonymous said...

Oh me oh my, how about the students simply
learning the stuff instead of doing all those quizzes?
The amount of work for the teacher seems
ridiculous if weighed against the possible
pedagogical benefit. Do they not want to learn? Would you say that the result actually
improves thanks to all this extra work of yours?

Zeno said...

"simply learning the stuff instead"

You're not a teacher, are you, Anonymous?

"The amount of work for the teacher seems ridiculous"

As the teacher in question, that's rather my call, isn't it?

"Do they not want to learn?"

All them do, in varying degrees. Many need a bit of prompting. Otherwise we'd just hand them textbooks and wish them luck.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Daily quizzes - short and not counting for much - are a great way to keep students working all along, and even better for making sure that all the students are in fact keeping up.

Peter Lund said...

"on the 9 point scale used back then"

You mean the 10-point scale, Sili.

And there is a reason for the weird numbers on the scales (00, 03, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 on the old one), namely that particularly good and bad grades should carry more weight when averaging. The weights are premultiplied in, for consistency and ease.

A particularly bad thing about the new scale is the combination of the old '11' and '13' into a single new '12', which means that outstanding performance is not visible in the grades anymore.

('11' and '13' would both be an 'A' on the American scale. Probably '10' would, too. Think of '13' as an A++.)

Sili said...

Well ...

The mark of the mathematician is an inability to count ...

Well, the 11/13 merger was done exactly because 13 mapped to Swedish 5 which was so much easier to get (relatively).

My beef with the new system is the need for translating it to numbers, that then have to be converted back anyway if needed abroad - just like before. More friggin' bureaucracy. Why not just keep the letters and then use the numbers when determining averages. And don't get me started on the whole "wahhhhhh, we can't use negative marks, cuz that'll make the precious ickle chillen think they're worth less than nothing. wahhh wahhh wahhh."

If they think that, YOU'RE NOT TEACHING THEM MATHS RIGHT ANYWAY. It's an additive scale - it's utterly irrelevant is the passmark is zero, pi or -117.

/rant