Category Archives: grades

December 11, 2013, 10:03 am

Should a Grading Policy Be Absolute? No,No,No


In the old days at Zenith, I had this sign hanging in my office, given to me as a Christmas present by a student.

OK, so there are some of your students who weren’t listening to Amy Winehouse this semester: too much shot glass, too little in class. Now is the time of year that the chickens come home to roost, don’t they? Their failures are our failures.

And it makes us so mad that we sometimes respond badly. I was privy to an interesting conversation yesterday about having policies that govern late papers, make up exams and whatnot.

The arguments about whether to enforce late paper policies strictly ranged from:

  • Do it: I’ve heard every excuse before; to
  • Don’t be an a$$hat. Give the kid a make up the exam.

I want to emphasize: there truly was a healthy range of views expressed on this issue, and …

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January 27, 2013, 10:34 am

Want Helicopter Parents Gone? Teach Your Students To Fly

In today’s New York Times KJ Dell’Antonia weighs in on helicopter parenting, speculating that one outcome of articles like his is to give some parents the warm and fuzzies. After having read about how other people’s  kids wander clueless through their educations, “most readers get to give themselves a pat on the back. They would never do such crazy stuff! Therefore, they are not helicopter parents. Case closed — off to drive the kid to hockey practice as soon as I pack up his bag.”

Dell’Antonia missed the second audience for this article. College teachers and university administrators will be re-posting it to Facebook, with hair-raising stories about the heli-relllies who have been camped out in the President’s waiting room, grimly awaiting action on last semester’s Epic Fail. Parents intervening on behalf of young people who have screwed up in some dismal way or another is a fact …

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December 28, 2012, 4:45 pm

Grading In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction

If you are my age, you remember a time, years ago, when some wag of a colleague would distribute a mimeographed list of verbal “boners” found in that semester’s student papers. Some of these could be verbalized, and still retain their maximum impact, but most required the visual media we then had at our disposal.  Student boners, which would now be called bloopers for obvious reasons, usually involved a homynym, a misspelling, an ungrammatical twist or a peculiar metaphor. You had to see it to get the full yuck. One blooper that I recall vividly from my TA days was a response to a short answer exam question for the nineteenth century U.S. History final, “Identify and state the significance of  the reaper.” Answer: “The raper was a machine that performed the work of ten men.”

Humiliating students in their absence is, of course, a symptom of very intelligent, highly verbal and very…

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November 22, 2012, 10:41 am

Why Did The Pilgrims Establish A Day Of Thanksgiving?

To get a long weekend for catching up on their grading, of course.

Oh yeah, Thanksgiving has a bunch of origin stories, but this is the one no one knows. See, in 1621 the Pilgrims had assigned a bunch of papers and got backed up, as is not uncommon even for really conscientious faculty. But the Pilgrims had been staking out a new empire and purifying the Anglican church. They were simply overcommitted, and had not yet “learned to say no” as so many of us are now usefully instructed to do by senior colleagues.

The Wampanoags, however, were concerned about their grades, particularly since it was well past midterms. They came over and were like, “Yo! When are we getting our papers back?” In a classic feint that had first been used at Oxford back in 1321, the Puritan forefathers said, “We are almost done grading but in the meantime, why don’t you come to dinner and bring the main…

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August 8, 2011, 11:38 am

Do Bad Grades Mean The Governor Is Dumb? Or; Why Am I Defending Rick Perry?

Haskell County, Texas, pop.3,332, home of Governor Rick Perry

When we are arguing education policy, do the Governor’s college grades really matter?

On Friday, Jason Cherkis at the Huffington Post leaked Governor Rick Perry’s undergraduate transcript from Texas A & M.  Highlighting the C’s, D’s and F’s, Cherkis speculates that Perry’s desire to run higher education on a business model is a revenge narrative that Perry is playing out because of his own failure to thrive in the system.  As Cherkis explains:

A source in Texas passed The Huffington Post Perry’s transcripts from his years at Texas A&M University. The future politician did not distinguish himself much in the classroom. While he later became a student leader, he had to get out of academic probation to do so. He rarely earned anything above a…

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July 16, 2011, 3:21 pm

B Is For Bourdieu; Or, Why A Selective School Doesn’t Grade Like A Community College

In our endless quest for intellectual excellence, we at Tenured Radical ask today:  ”Why do college teachers give so many B’s?”  This strikes us as a dramatically more novel and interesting question than the ongoing obsession about why college teachers give so many A’s. We were pushed to think about this after reading an article in The Deseret News, which notified us of the unsurprising fact that 43% of college grades are in the range of A, and fewer than 10% of grades are C or below.  So why are critics so concerned about A’s when, in fact, B seems to be the giveaway grade, coming in at somewhere over 47% of all grades given?

Any of us who teach at any level nowadays know that C, D, and F are now the equivalent of “fail, fail minus, and geddaf*ckouddahere.”  To lean sloppily on the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, students at selective schools who receive these grades are be…

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May 15, 2011, 3:37 pm

Network Down! And Other Thoughts On Shifting Our Educational Practice To A Virtual World

Yesterday the Zenith network went down.  While the message that informed us that things were working again said something about a hardware upgrade, it is difficult to believe that they really intended to take the whole system down during finals week.  I suspect that, although tinkering may have been part of the issue, the network was also overwhelmed.

This happens periodically because of two institutional impulses, neither of which is inherently bad, but which together can create havoc:  putting as much of our work on-line as possible and cutting the university budget.  It is only a guess that these two things are related, but I can’t recall a year during which we have lost our online services abruptly so very many times (the last occurrence was in the middle of uploading senior honors theses.)  Here’s a lesson for you, if you are an aspiring administrator:  money saved by implementing…

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November 24, 2008, 2:58 pm

What Works For Christians Could Work For Academics Too

Pastor Ed Young of the Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas has been urging his flock to improve their emotional well-being by having more sex. In fact, last Sunday he instructed the married couples in his flock to have sex every day prior to coming to church yesterday. The economic downturn (read: Republican trainwreck), in addition to the ordinary problems couples have (adultery, PTSD, child-rearing, exhaustion, quiet and/or open rage, working two or three jobs) are causing people to lose the intimacy that is the key to a healthy marriage, Young argues. In the longer term, the Seven Days of Sex should cause couples to at least double the amount of intercourse they have and “move from whining about the economy to whoopee!”

Well yes indeed. Of course, Young is not the first Christian to suggest this. From Henry Ward Beecher’s gospel of love through Marabel Morgan’s advice in…

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August 25, 2008, 1:08 pm

Why Joe Biden?

Beats me, except for voters like Mother of the Radical (MOTheR), who is a formerly Hillary-supporting Pennsylvania voter and thinks Joe Biden is the bee’s knees. The comb over doesn’t seem to bother her at all.

But Delaware? Who needs Delaware in a general election? Wait! I know! Except for an accident of colonialism and the fact that it is owned by Dupont, Delaware is actually a county in Pennsylvania. Don’t believe it that Obama is eschewing the old “state strategy” by choosing a senator from little, insignificant Delaware as his vice president: the campaign is hoping that Joe will bring in the very important swing state of Pennsylvania (where, by the way, black politicians are not overly popular and gregarious, boot-straps white guys are.)

Of course, I didn’t like any of the people on the finals list, except perhaps Evan Bayh. And I was a little afraid of the Governor of…

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June 2, 2007, 12:36 pm

Ask the Radical: The Dreaded Grade Dispute

From time to time, the Radical will take direct questions about how to proceed in delicate matters not occurring at Zenith (refresh your memory of the Blogger Ethic, or just try to imagine the consequences, if you don’t understand why she does not address controversial events at Zenith any more.)

This dispatch is just in from the Land of Contingent Labor:

“Dear Professor Radical: I was recently accused of giving a student a failing grade because I am allegedly biased against him. When he lodged the original complaint about the grade, I provided him with all of the reasons for his grade, including not answering assigned questions, not addressing gay people in a class about sexuality, and not answering questions when asked during his presentations even though answering questions was part of what was expected in the presentation. His response to my explanation was to accuse me of reverse …

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