All Posts Tagged With: "grades"
‘Better’ schools wouldn’t take him. Now, he’s a master.
John Fraser is master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. His advice first appeared in the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings.
The agony of “getting it right” when choosing a university to kick off the higher academic experience in life is one I never had the privilege of experiencing. I had only three humble criteria: (1) is there a university that would actually take me, (2) could I afford it, and (3) please, dear God, can there be enough distance between my home in Toronto and this mythical, inexpensive place of higher learning—preferably with water in between?
Those are not generally the concerns of either parents or students, but variations on those themes are actually not a bad way to figure out where to go. The endless searching for exactly the right high-profile place, the relentless reliance on university evaluation guides (including the highly popular one this magazine puts out every year), the phone calls to well-connected friends, the trauma visited on the victim-students, the over-the-top ambitions of concerned parents: all these ingredients can add up to a roiling broth whose only parallel seems to be the hysteria of a bride’s mother the day before the wedding.
Low marks lead to bad online reviews
Tracy Vaillancourt, a University of Ottawa professor, has proven that students who get bad grades take revenge on their professors by giving them a bad online reviews. That’s a problem. If professors fear giving low grades, then they may unjustifiably give better ones. When that happens, students lose because they never get the kick in the pants they need to start doing better.
From the U. Ottawa press release:
The popular professor ratings site Rate My Professors contains over 13 million comments and 1.7 million ratings of professors. The comments and ratings purportedly help students with their course and professor selection. However, from the perspective of many professors, a lot of the comments are downright mean. Professor Vaillancourt was interested in whether such vitriolic comments were made in response to a poor grade from the professor.
Certain private schools may be boosting grades
The Alberta government says it will investigate after the Calgary Herald found wide gaps between final grades awarded by certain high schools and their students’ pitiful exam performances.
The newspaper’s data show that, in most courses, marks tend to drop about 10 per cent after final exam scores, which are worth 50 per cent of the grade, are added to the 50 per cent awarded at the teacher’s discretion. But in some private schools, grades dropped a lot more after the tests.
For example, in one class at the International School of Excellence (ISE), grades fell by 38.9 per cent after an exam, which only two of 19 students managed to pass. Despite the poor exam results, everyone in the class was given their credit on the strength of high marks from their teacher.
An investigation in Ontario last year uncovered apparent “credit mills.” At these private schools, students said it was much easier to get high grades than at public schools they had attended.
Lack of report cards had caused anxiety
UBC Vancouver’s senate confirmed Wednesday that they will allow the university to make admissions decisions partly based on Grade 11 marks. B.C. teachers haven’t given out traditional report cards this year as a form of protest, which caused anxiety for B.C applicants.
The plan is for B.C. students to be assessed twice. UBC will consider final confirmed grades to date, including final Grade 11 and completed Grade 12 courses, and make some offers in April. Then in May, when official Grade 12 marks come from the ministry, they’ll make more offers.
What UBC won’t do is allow students to self-report grades given by teachers in lieu of official report cards. They also stress that no student will be rejected based on Grade 11 marks.
Take-home exams just aren’t the same
I love almost everything about being a professor. Teaching, research—I even look forward to department meetings.
But I hate grading exams. And just as I become a flat-tax advocate every April when I’m trying to locate receipts and hoping I don’t owe the government money, every December I harbor fantasies of getting rid of exams altogether.
Many of my colleagues in the arts are way ahead of me on this, either giving no exams at all, or giving students an extra, essay-like assignment commonly called a “take-home” exam. But since you take it home and have an extended time to do it, it’s not really an exam in the traditional sense.
Some activities may lead to lower marks
It’s common to use Facebook as a scapegoat for poor academic performance. That’s because a few small studies have shown that grades are lower among students who spend more time on the social media site. The assumption has always been that more time spent on Facebook translates to less time spent studying, which leads to lower grades.
But a newer, bigger U.S. study has found that Facebook time and study time are only weakly related. It takes many extra hours of posting and chatting before grades start to slip. What’s more, although the new study found negative relationships between grades and certain types of Facebook activities, other types of activities appear to be a associated with higher grades.
Before you send an angry e-mail, read this prof’s advice
Around this time of year Canadian university students are bracing themselves for a stressful moment: getting back their first assignments. First-year students may be appalled by the number in front of them — do grades even go that low? Even top students can see their grades drop. Here’s how to answer that jangling wake up call.
Don’t be alarmed if the grade is lower than you expected. If you got straight As in high school, you may be shocked to see a B, C… or worse. But in fact, a recent Canadian study shows that those who had the highest marks (90 per cent or more) fall the farthest: about 12 per cent on average. Take heart: almost everyone goes through this at some point. I did, and some schools, like the University of Toronto, explicitly warn students that their grades may drop 10-15 points.
Don’t take it personally. Remember that the professor is grading your work, not you. It’s easy to think that a low grade somehow means your prof doesn’t like you, but that’s not the case. Try getting out of the habit of saying “he gave me a C” and start saying “he gave my paper a C.”
Read the comments, not just the grade. Most professors will provide additional comments, sometimes in great detail, explaining just where the problems are and how to fix them. Make sure you understand the comments and how you can use them to improve. Professors want you to improve and will be happy if you show a real interest in learning. The jerk who gave you a crummy mark today may end up being the mentor who guides you to the Dean’s list next semester.
Don’t contact your professor the same day you get the assignment back. Emotions can run high when you get a disappointing grade, and it doesn’t help to turn up at Professor Stingy’s door with smoke seeping out of your ears, or to fire off an angry email on the bus ride home. Take some time, sleep on it, and then think about asking your professor for more feedback.
If you do seek feedback, ask about how you can do better either by rewriting the paper (if your instructor allows it) or by taking a different approach on the next one. Through it all, try to remain humble. It’s hard to be told that your work was not as good as you thought it was, but take a breath and set aside your ego, and you may see that your professor has a point. Maybe that graph wasn’t designed very well. Maybe that thesis statement wasn’t very clear. Next time, it will be better.
Know that professors go through the same thing. Profs write papers too, and submit them to publishers and journals, and get them back with feedback. Believe me, the feedback is not always positive. I’ve never heard of an academic journal that doesn’t reject more papers than it receives. I once worked through a whole raft of revisions an editor wanted, adding here, expanding there, and then, after resubmitting, was told it was now too long! “Too long!” I thought, “it’s only too long because you made me add all that stuff!” But after I calmed down, I realized my editor had been right both times. Work, feedback, more work. It’s the circle of academic life.
Remember why you’re at university: Getting a shocking grade isn’t easy, especially the first time. But one of the most important skills you’ll learn in university is how to pick yourself up after you fail, and push yourself to the next level.
That’s why they call it “higher” education.
We will fail you if you deserve it: Prof. Pettrigrew
I found most of this review of Cote and Allahar’s Lowering Higher Education in the Halifax Chronicle Herald unobjectionable, but there was one passage that stood out as just plain wrong to me:
In undergraduate courses as well as high school classes, giving low marks is now verboten because it is considered detrimental to building “students’ self–esteem.”
First, I’m not at all convinced that high school is all about self-esteem these days, regardless of what one hears in the media. From what I hear from teachers, the emphasis is on “success.” The problem is that the bar for success is continually lowered until the student in question can reach it, but that’s a separate issue.
Even if the cult of self-esteem is what has trashed standards in high schools — and I don’t doubt that those standards have been trashed — I have not observed the same thing at my university.
For one thing, the principle of academic freedom is deeply embedded in university culture, and administrators know there would be a storm of protest if a professor was forced to raise a grade simply because a student felt bad about getting it. If my Dean called me up and said, “I know you gave Marley Median an F in English, but we feel that it’s important to cultivate self esteem…” I’d have hung up and placed a call to my faculty association before he finished the sentence. University faculty associations are powerful, well-funded, and extremely litigious. Administrators usually leave well-enough alone.
Second, university professors don’t have to answer to parents. Provincial privacy laws help a great deal here (sorry, I can’t discuss that…) as does the fairly pervasive sense that university students are adults (sorry, I shan’t discuss that…). Parents seem to recognize these realities as well, and where they might have gone to bat for Janey over whether Mrs. Denominator marked her math test correctly, they have no interest in calling Dr. Hightower to complain about Janey’s essay on the epistemology of Kant and Hume. Indeed, I am a comparatively tough grader, and in over ten years as a professor, I have yet to hear a parent complain that their children’s self-esteem has been unfairly trodden on by one of my low grades.
None of this is to say that university standards are not an important issue, nor to say that there are not threats to them. The reliance on positive student evaluations for tenure and promotion is a problem. So is the unwillingness to track down plagiarism. So is the over-zealous application of policies for accommodating disabilities. And the list goes on.
A wide-spread need to protect students’ self-esteem, thankfully, is not a problem at universities. At least not yet.
Professor Pettigrew proposes an entirely new system
A few years ago, a colleague told me that when he was a TA, he was told never to give a grade below 45. The reason was that students earning a very low grade would dig themselves into a hole and wouldn’t be able to pass the course. At the time, I scoffed at such a practice. After all, it’s unfair to give a student who did next to nothing a 45 when another student who just fell short the same 45. And what if the student doesn’t turn in the paper at all? A 45 for nothing?
Another way to view this problem, as Douglas Reeves has argued, is to note that the standard A, B,C, D, F grading system over-punishes missed assignments which get graded at zero. Actually, it’s worse: any serious failure is systemically unfair because the F range is, compared to other grades, huge.
Still further, the traditional scale forces professors to grade with a very narrow range. Most papers are somewhere between D- and B+, a range that uses only thirty points (50-79) out of one hundred.
The solution is to revise the percentage system to equally distribute grades over the whole range from zero to one hundred. We change to old system:
to a new system:
Now, I’m not suggesting that a failing paper that used to deserve a 40 under the old system would now pass. What I mean is that the paper that deserved a 40 under the old system would now be given a 16 in the new system. The numbers are different but represent the same thing, just as 0 Celsius is no colder than 32 Fahrenheit.
The new system means that one disastrous failure or one missed assignment in an otherwise decent performance doesn’t cause a student to fail the whole course. For instance, imagine a student, Mishrump Middleton, who has four equally-weighted assignments in his course and earns a C- on the first three but fails to turn in the last one.
Mishrump is no Rhodes Scholar, obviously, but he probably doesn’t deserve to fail the course. But, under the old system, Mishrump gets a 45 as his final grade — an F — and fails because that single zero drags him down. But under my system, Mishrump gets a 30 which, remember, is now a D and so still gets credit for the course, which, intuitively, he probably deserves. Put another way, Mishrump gets the equivalent of the old 55 instead of the old 45 because the grades are more logically distributed.
But how can I use my new system? I can’t simply give a C- student a grade of 40 and expect everyone else at my university to know that what I mean by 40 is not the same as what they mean by 40. And even if I could get my whole university to switch over to my system, it might be confusing to others if Cape Breton University’s transcripts showed a middling student with a 45 average instead of a 62. The whole country will have to make the switch.
In the meantime, I have a solution for my own classes. I will give students letter grades but calculate their grades using my new scale. Then, at the end of the course, I will translate those grades back into the standard percentages. It will be more work, but it beats giving every failing paper a 45.
What’s David Marrello’s secret to success?
A Toronto high school student has earned a 100 per cent average in his high school courses, reports the Toronto Star.
David Marrello says his academic success is the result of constantly asking questions and being a perfectionist. He also makes time for extracurricular activities, including watching the famous quick show Jeopardy, playing the piano and heading up The Bishop Allen School’s Reach for the Top team.
Although he had his pick of schools, he chose to enroll close to home at York University’s Schulich School of Business. He will, of course, be attending for free thanks to a four-year scholarship.
Under-achiever? Over-achiever? Either way, you’ll want to read this
Republican (right-wing) professors give a wider range of grades, including more extremely high and more painfully low marks, while registered Democrat (left-wing) professors grade students more equally, says a new paper to be published in the American Economic Journal. Researchers Talia Bar and Asaf Zussman theorized that Republicans, who are more likely to oppose redistribution of wealth, might also be more likely to oppose redistribution of grades from high-achieving to low-achieving students.
They appear to be right. In their study, average students — those who ranged from the twenty-fifth to the ninetieth percentile on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) — got the same grades from Republicans and Democrats, ranging from 3.0 to 4.0.
But students who were below the tenth percentile on the SAT received worse grades from Republicans than Democrats (2.0 versus 2.30) and high-achievers, those over the ninetieth percentile, were given higher grades by Republicans than by Democrats too (4.3 versus 4.0).
The study included the marks and SAT scores of 17,062 arts, humanities and physical sciences students who studied at an “elite” American university between 2000 and 2004. Political preference of professors was based on local voter registration records.
There is one caveat. Despite a large sample of 511 professors having participated, only 27 (5.3 per cent) were registered Republicans, while 370 (76.3) per cent were Democrats. Those widely divergent sample sizes somewhat increase the chance of a statistical error.
Sixty per cent think they’re above average
New research is adding to weight to the theory that today’s students are more confident than ever — too confident, according to some experts.
A new study shows that 60 per cent of first-year students in 2009 rated themselves as intellectually above average. In 1966, only 39 per cent declared themselves intellectually superior on a similar survey.
“There are some advantages and some disadvantages to self-esteem, so having some degree of confidence is often a good thing,” Jean Twenge, one of the study’s authors, told USA Today. However, “it’s not just confidence. It’s overconfidence,” she said. Twenge, a San Diego State University professor, theorized in her book Generation Me that overconfidence prevents young people from learning how to deal with failure.
In the new study, she and her co-authors argue that increasing intellectual confidence is caused by ever-increasing grades — so-called grade inflation — which makes students feel ever smarter. They point out that in 1966, only 19 per cent of American students entered university with at least an A-minus grade average from high school. By 2009, more than twice as many did (48 per cent).
In Canada, grade inflation may be even worse. Last year, the Canadian University Survey Consortium found that 70 per cent of first-year students reported having an A-minus average or above in high school. That’s up from 40 per cent in the early 1980s and it’s astronomically higher than the five per cent of A-grades that were historically awarded, according University of Western Ontario sociologist and higher education critic Dan Côté. (He made similar arguments to Twenge’s assertions in his book Ivory Tower Blues.)
But not everyone agrees that increasing confidence is a bad thing. Jeffrey Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University who studies youth, told USA Today that he doesn’t question Twenge’s results, but he thinks that students merely have “[the] confidence that we wished we had” — and he thinks that’s a good thing. Other experts argue that increasing confidence has caused more students to volunteer.
Laziness and apathy will find a way.
Last year around this time, I found myself fed up with giving bad grades. Students didn’t like them, and some potentially good students seemed to get discouraged by a bad grade and give up. Not only that, I didn’t like giving the low grades, or, for that matter, reading the bad papers that made them necessary.
So I hatched a plan. What, I said to myself, if failure was simply not an option? What if a paper had to be at a certain level of quality or it went back to the student without a grade and had to be rewritten? A student asked to do a rewrite will be less discouraged, I reasoned, than one who gets an F. And if they are forced to do reasonably well, then they will be encouraged to do better on the next paper.
Everyone succeeds. No one fails. No young adult left behind.
Or so I hoped.
The reality was rather less exciting. For one thing, handing papers back for indefinite revision meant that there were no fixed due dates for any of the papers. Students in my intro course, for example, knew they had to do five over the course of the year, and they knew that some of them might come back for revision. So it was clear that they needed to get on it in the first semester, and from the outset I kept reminding and cajoling them to get those papers in because if you leave them all to the end, you won’t have time to get them all done.
Can you guess what happened? They left them all to the end and didn’t get them done. Well, a lot of them didn’t, anyway. Thanks to an extended final deadline, six of the original 37 students ended up doing all five of the papers. Those six all did reasonably well in the course, too. Of the remaining thirty-one students, many did nothing in the first semester and dropped in the second realizing they were never going to pass. Others did their best and managed to push through three or four papers, and some of those students managed to pass too. Others made a half-hearted attempt and failed. Still others did nothing, and, of course, failed.
Overall, the failure rate in the course stayed about the same as in previous years.
All of which makes me sad. See, because I am a tough grader, students sometimes imagine I don’t want them to do well. But nothing could be further from the truth. I want them all to do well. To write with clarity and precision and to advance significant arguments — my heart lightens even to type the words — but I won’t give good grades for bad work.
And so I try to work out plans like the one outlined above, thinking, somehow, if I build the assignment structure correctly, students will take it seriously. And some do, but then, some always do. And some always don’t. No matter how the assignments are structured, it now seems to me, there will always be those who aim low and miss low. There will be those who simply will not correct their mistakes no matter how many times they are pointed out. And there will be those who simply will not do it at all.
So failure is always an option. Students demand it, and I cannot, in good conscience, refuse them.
Maybe next year I could pretend that there are due dates…
American report shows students taking more rigorous course load
American high school students are taking more rigorous courses, and are earning higher grade point averages as a result, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Study. Between 1990 and 2009, the average GPA rose from 2.68 to 3.0, the report, which was released Wednesday, concluded. Coinciding with higher academic performance was an increase in total course load, as well as an increase in the number of core courses–math, science, English and social science–high school students are taking. “Rigor in high school is closely linked to success afterward, and this study confirms that we need higher secondary standards across the board,” said David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board. The study included 37,700 graduates from 740 public and private secondary schools across the United States.
Bargaining team aims to put pressure on college over salaries
Langara College faculty are refusing to submit students’ final grades as part of a bargaining tactic to put pressure on the administration over salaries and benefits. In a statement from the bargaining team and posted to the Langara Faculty Association website on Friday, the move was in response to stalled negotiations. “Bargaining is still going nowhere and we have heard nothing from the college to encourage us that any movement is forthcoming,” the statement read.
Yesterday, the bargaining team advised faculty that while they shouldn’t be officially submitting final grades to the college, they could still tell their students what marks they earned. The deadline for final submission of grades is not until April 26. Langara Faculty had threatened to strike last month, and even issued a 72-hour deadline to the college, but the only action taken prior to withholding grades has been an information session. For students who have questions or concerns regarding their grades, the faculty association is directing them to the Langara administration.
Under no circumstances are grades changed ‘arbitrarily,’ says dean of science
University of Alberta dean of science Gregory Taylor recently issued a response to Gateway editor Jonn Kmech’s editorial on the grading dispute between the university and math professor Mikhail Kovalyov.
It should be recalled that Kovalyov was asked to resign after informing his students that their grades were lowered by administrators without his support. The changes made by administrators in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences resulted in the class average for the professor’s first year course to drop from 2.16 to 1.79, while the university’s grading policy suggests an average of 2.62 for courses at the same level.
In his editorial, Kmech argued that, “While it’s currently the department’s prerogative to approve the final grades, if they can lower the marks by bulk like this, there doesn’t seem much point to professors handing out grades at all.”
Science dean Taylor responds that Kmech’s editorial suggests that administrators change instructor’s grades at random to fit a grading curve, which Taylor argues, “is simply not the case.”
“There is no policy that requires a quota of As, Bs, Cs, and so on in a course or across sections of a course,” Taylor states.
However, as noted in our original story, the explanation given by faculty services officer David McNeilly for altering the grades, was that Kovalyov awarded too many B grades and “failed to include any grades of C-, D+, or D,” which clearly suggests a grading curve.
The university’s grading policy posted on its website also outlines suggested distributions of grades for undergraduate courses. Although professors are not expected to follow the distribution “exactly,” guidelines suggest that in a first year class, six per cent of students will fail, nine per cent will receive a B and four per cent will be awarded an A+.
Judging by evidence presented in the Kovalyov case and the university’s grading policy itself, Taylor’s argument that a grading curve does not exist at the U of A is not a very strong one.
UAlberta grades dispute ‘breaks trust in grading’
John Kmech, editor of the University of Alberta’s the Gateway, weighs in on the grading dispute between math professor Mikhail Kovalyov and the university.
It’s unclear what the department gains from failing so many students or giving the class a final average of 1.79, little higher than a C-. It could be seen as maintaining “standards,” and it’s true that students should do poorly if they aren’t pulling their weight. But what “fail” means inherently depends on the difficulty of the coursework, something that only an individual professor can judge. While it’s currently the department’s prerogative to approve the final grades, if they can lower the marks by bulk like this, there doesn’t seem much point to professors handing out grades at all.
Read the the rest here.
Mixed reactions about math prof who’s grades were lowered by department
To follow up on my earlier post on the dispute between math professor Mikhail Kovalyov and the University of Alberta, I was recently able to get in contact with some of the students who Kovalyov had emailed criticizing the math department for lowering their grades and encouraging them to appeal their marks. Those emails, it will be recalled, ultimately resulted in the university relieving Kovalyov of his teaching duties and asking for his resignation. Reactions from his students are mixed.
Rylee Machula, whose grade was lowered from a C to an F, said that while he found Kovalyov’s emails “childish,” he opposed the administration’s decision to alter the class average. “The changes should never have happened. It wasn’t their place,” he said. The geology student later launched a successful appeal, raising his final mark for the first-year math class to a D.
Yasin Isse, whose grade was lowered from a B- to a C+ appealed his grade after Kovalyov had emailed the class, but in his case the appeal was denied. “It was a long process and the university did take necessary measures to try to resolve the conflict by getting a different person to examine the situation and answer each students’ claims specifically,” he said.
Isse added that the various emails he received from both Kovalyov and administrators became confusing. “It got to the point that I did not know who was telling the truth . . ., it just took too much effort and time to digest all the material and really understand the situation,” he said. Of Kovalyov, Isse said that “it is a shame he had to leave.”
Other students were content with their final mark. “I got a B- in the class and that’s honestly no more or no less than what I feel I deserved” Jeffrey Lafleche, a student in the faculty of education, said. Lafleche said he felt “pretty cynical” about the appeal process and “figured it would be a waste of time.”
Our student panel weighs in
At the centre of the dispute between math professor Mikhail Kovalyov and the University of Alberta is the question of grading curves. Kovalyov’s course average was lowered by department administrators supposedly because he had awarded too many Bs compared to Cs and Ds, touching off a battle that ultimately resulted in the administration asking him to resign.
The case is unique because Kovalyov actively encouraged his students to appeal their grades. It also highlights the fact that how students are assessed can be controversial.
Achieving target class averages often involves employing a mathematical grading curve to ensure that in each class their are the predetermined number of As, Cs, and Fs awarded. Results can be confusing. If an overwhelming number of students score well on an exam, even those with a mark in the high 80s could see their final grade curved down to a B. Similarly, if a disproportionate number of students score very low, a pass for the exam could be set at 35 per cent.
We asked our student panel whether they thought grading curves are fair. Answers are posted below, as well as on our front page. As with previous weeks, all videos are archived on our You Tube Channel.
Grade inflation isn’t solved by using blunt changes to certain courses
An interesting discussion on grade inflation has been sparked southside recently by an article in the New York Times, which looked at the University of North Carolina’s attempts to rein in rising grade point averages. Averages have risen on average by a tenth of a point each decade since the 1960s.
That’s in the USA though. In Canada, controversies over grade inflation are more likely to happen at the course level, rather than the institutional one. There is of course the example of Denis Rancourt in 2009, who was fired from the University of Ottawa after he gave an A+ to everyone in an upper year physics course. This month, it’s the case of Mikhail Kovalyov at the University of Alberta, who has been asked to resign after letting his students know their grades were lowered over his objections. But overall, this country has been less concerned about grades being too high on a university-wide level, than about courses that are “too easy.”
Funny though that you never hear debates about the courses that are “too hard”, though they too exist. Classes where a third of the class is meant to fail, or where there is simply a crummy professor. Yet these courses are inevitable, because there is always a need to separate the wheat from the chaff, and there is always a few rotten professors in a faculty of dozens.
But an undergraduate degree requires passing dozens of courses. Some will be hard/easy/fair/unfair, and that’s part of the point. It’s a varied challenge. And when the reason for directly interfering with particular marks is only cross-section consistency as with Kovalyov, it gives credence to criticisms of universities operated as degree factories over places of open inquiry and learning, where the grades are secondary to the experience. Transparency in grading practices and internal struggles to ensure fair grading are good—but subjective wholesale modifications after the fact are a rather blunt instrument to combat a nuanced issue.
So while I don’t know enough about the particulars in the Kovalyov case to have a strong opinion, more often than not universities are trying to correct a problem that doesn’t exist when it comes to grade inflation.