My least favorite teaching task is the assignment of final grades. You can count on it: There will always be a couple of students teetering on the brink between two grades. Some of my colleagues solve the problem by being very strict constructionists: “A grade of B requires 80%. That's 80%. Not 79%. Not 79.9%. End of story.” Others are conditional rounders: “If the student's semester average is 79.5% and the final exam score is a B or better, I'll round it up to a B. Otherwise it remains a C.” There are many decision mechanisms.
You can probably anticipate the problem. Sometimes two students have the same borderline score, but one of them did it with an exemplary effort on the final exam and the other did it by squandering a better grade with a final-exam pratfall. You can't really drive a wedge between their semester scores when both of them have 79.0%. They rise or fall together. What to do?
This recently happened in one of my classes. One of my students closed strong while the other had steadily lost ground. They ended up in a numerical tie. Both were aware that they had fallen short of an outright B because I had released their final exam scores. It all came down to the grade brackets and my judgment on what decision would be the most equitable and most reflective of their accomplishments. I compared notes with a couple of colleagues and both students ended up with Bs, which rewarded the diligent student for her strong finish and didn't punish the student who had lost some of his drive in the last weeks. I picked the “nice” option.
I could still argue for the other outcome, but I was comfortable with the decision to award both students “good” grades. At least, I was comfortable till one of them reacted with the following message:
DEAR PROFESSOR Z!!!!!!Oy veh. I have only one question: Why didn't she pray for an A?
THANK YOU SO MUCH !!!!!!!!!!
I WAS PRAYING ABOUT MY GRADE.
THANK YOU JESUS!!!!!
That you decided to give me a B!!!!!!!! God bless you for doing it!!!
I was in church on Saturday and the pastor was talking about God's power to answer our prayers. He told us how he was asking God about parking in a very busy time when there never any available spaces. He was driving and praying to God when he saw that one person was taking off from his parking spot. He was so happy about it because God gave him a parking spot. He said that if you believe in God and ask him whatever you want, He will always answer. So after church I asked Jesus to give me a B for my math class. And now I see that HE answered my prayer. Isn't it amazing!?
And now you've helped set that student up for a big disappointment when they get a strict constructionist professor.
Or when they decide (unlike Linus) that hoping and praying CAN substitute for working and studying.
Too true, Ridger.
I can see why you enjoy teaching, Zeno, there's no end to the surprises and entertainment. I like your final assessment of her prayers; you should've taken off points from her score for her not really believing in the power of prayer. Praying for a lowly B.
A friend of mine, who is certainly religious but also very rational, responded to acquaintances of his who were forming a prayer group so they could win the lottery. Yes, praying for gambling winnings. My friend responded to them that if god really intended for him to get rich, he (god) certainly didn't need my friend to actually go out and buy a stupid lottery ticket.
There's a story arc in Something Positive that you might enjoy, or at least feel familiar with: http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp05272014.shtml
Can you retroactively lower the student's grade on grounds of logical error?
Or, as Ridger points out, the student will get her much-deserved comeuppance soon enough in life at someone else's hands.
Yes, if you find a mathematical error in your gradebook, you could file a grade-change form that would lower a student's grade. I have not, however, heard of that ever happening at my school.
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