Grading Dilemmas

Over the years, I have had some interesting experiences with grading students on their work. I do not grade on a curve because I feel that a grade you earn should be the grade you receive, and I should not feel obligated to give out a certain number of A’s or be limited if everyone does a nice job—no, that one is my cue to make the next test harder!

My goal is always to challenge the students, yet not leave them at a disadvantage. In other words, if they study the texts I assign and pay attention during lectures, chances are they will get a satisfactory grade. When it comes to testing, I always make sure that I pull the questions directly from one source or the other so that everyone has the same opportunity to do well. With practical work and computer lab, I do occasionally give them projects that have the potential to be more complicated than what we have gone over in class, true, but I do not mark it against a student if they decide not to accept the challenge. For example, in one of my Unix classes, I had the students create a program. Some made simple text-based programs that fit the parameters of the assignment while others added graphics. Obviously, if the coding was clean, I gave the ones who added graphics a better grade, but I did not penalize the students who made text-only programs if those programs also ran correctly. When it is a situation like this, I am very glad that I can hand out however many good scores as I see fit to and am not hampered by some sort of arbitrary sliding scale.

I do occasionally have students who claim that a question, test, or assignment is unfair. I try not to encourage this and tend to tell the student to see me after class. Some do wait until after the lecture and then choose to tell me, in private, why they felt it was unfair and what they think I can do about it. Not often, but there has been a time or two where I accidentally chose something in a chapter we had not yet discussed, or something similar to that. In those cases, I am proud to say that I am not too big to admit my mistakes! Most of the time, however, after talking to the student, I am able to help jostle their memory to when the topic was discussed or when it was supposed to have been read.

There have been other occasions where students are failing and ask for extra credit. I am typically willing to give extra credit if the student has been in class most of the semester and likely is just struggling with time management or a specific segment of the course. When that is the case, I try to assign extra assignments that are more than just ‘busy work’ but can help ease them into the concepts they are having trouble with. However, if it is a student who never shows, does not take notes, routinely has excuses or late assignments, it is unlikely that I will be interested to work with this student. I do not subscribe to the get it done at the finish line mentality some people have. This can make me unpopular with the students, which is also something I am OK with.

What about you? Any grading dilemmas in your career?