Friday, January 6, 2012

Mid-Terms! And Other Academic Musings...

Before Christmas, there was the lovely process known as semester exams (or midterms), and teaching a full year's course in the New Testament, the examination covered the following major topics of the first semester...

1) The run-up to, and the early life of Christ - in other words, setting up the conditions for his arrival on earth in Bethlehem.  This does matter, believe it or not, especially the attitudes that were fostered within the people of Israel between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago.

2) The preparation for, and the execution of the public ministry of Christ - Baptism, Temptation by Satan, miracles, teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, and the like.  One of my favorite sections to teach.

3) The final weeks of Jesus' life - this actually begins with the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which is the ultimate miracle of the public ministry.  This leads to the conspiracy, then the events of what we now call Holy Week, culminating in the Last Supper, the Agony, the arrest, the trials, and the death and burial of Jesus.

4) The early apostolic age - this begins with the Resurrection of Jesus, and how the Apostles go forward from there.  The unit and semester ends with the Council of Jerusalem - being a springboard to Paul's missionary journey into the Gentile world.

Exciting, isn't it?  Actually, I was going to discuss the exam results (without giving names or sections) and give some reaction to it from a purely data standpoint, but first, I want to place a chart here with the breakdown of sections and grades...


The first thing to note is that there were 122 students over five sections taking this exam; they all took the exact same exam in the exact same room (cafeteria), so there is no sense of different questions or environment that would skew the results.  The total grade distribution of all 122 students is thus...


The A, B, and C range also include any and all minuses that were gained - which are the 0-2 of the 90, 80, and 70 range (i.e. 90-92: A-, 80-82: B-, 70-72: C-).  The average grade of all 122 students was 79.31%, which could actually be inferred from looking at the pie chart - roughly half (64) of the total students scored an 80% or better, and about the same scored lower.  It's obvious which individual group would have the highest average, but I would be willing to bet that figuring out the order in which the groups finished after Group II would be more difficult to ascertain just by deciphering the amount of particular marks, because an 89.9% counts just as much a B just as 80.0% does (no, I don't round up - call me fickle, call me an ass, but numbers don't lie).

This brings me to an idea that has been percolating in my head for about the last year and a half - of applying the principle of Sabermetrics to grading as a way to compare students across sections and even across years. The ultimate goal I have, although I don't know how to implement it, is to make an 'Adjusted Grade' system a permanent part of high school transcripts and college applications.  Consider the problem...

Grade inflation is a bigger issue now than it ever has been, and thus, trying to raise up the best to a higher and more deserved level is ever-more difficult.  Lots of kids get A's, but the real question is: how are they doing in comparison with their peers?  Some high schools have been putting class averages on their transcripts when they send them to college to show that a particular student has been above the fold, but that is a messy proposition.  I say that it should be streamlined and made on a 100-based system, so it's incredibly easy to interpret.  

My inspiration for such a system is the adjusted statistics in Sabermetrics, especially OPS+ and ERA+ - both of these are pretty simple to interpret: 100 is average, and anything above or below is that many percentage points away from 'league average'.  How does this apply to grading and transcripts?  The fundamental principle is to show that not all grades are created equally.  A kid who gets a 95% with a class average of 93.5% does not have as impressive of a grade as a kid who has the 95% with a class average of 75%.  It can mean different things: 1) The instructor is tough and the kid in the class with the lower average grade worked his behind off to attain that 95%; 2) The instructor is easy and is giving away A's like Halloween candy, or 3) the entire class is just very smart, but that still means the kid with the 95% isn't standing out very much.

So at this point, this is all still very much a work in progress - if you couldn't tell by my stream-of-conscious style of rambling over the past couple of paragraphs!  Hopefully in the next few months it starts to come together and it will be pitched to someone (who, I don't know).  But I do know that it is time to try something new in academia.  I expect major push-back, but I think it is worth considering.  What do you think?

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