Monday, March 25, 2013

On Student Trolling (And Some Charts)...

The third quarter ended at school on Friday and as usual, some of the things I like to do is to analyze the numbers of my students.  Currently, there are 139 students across six sections of the course (all the same material), and the following shows the grade distribution (click to enlarge):

The A, B, and C ranges include the "minus" aspects as well.  Generally, you will find more A's and F's in any individual quarter; at the end of the year, there will be closer to five F's and twenty A's.  Individual quarters can be flukish, and it is actually hard to maintain an A average for an entire year.  Counter-intuitively, it is also actually difficult to maintain an F average for an entire year.  

The second chart are the section averages.  I intentionally mixed up the sections and did not put them in any order, to maintain the anonymity of the sections:

The overall average for the 139 students was 80.64, a B- average, which is pretty good, even as the final overall average at the end of the year will probably be a little closer to 77 or 78.

Now, if you are wondering why I entitled this "On Student Trolling", it goes to the practice of students bugging (and begging) me to "bump" them up to the next level.  I refer to this practice as trolling, because I find it annoying and it reminds me a lot of comment-box trolls who will deliberately stir things up to get a reaction.  

Most of the time it comes from kids have somewhere in the 78-79% range and want that 80%, because it looks better (and helps their GPA).  I will occasionally get the kid who has the 89% or even the 92%, but those guys understand that it just takes a little extra push on their part.  I also rarely get the 64% kids, because while they are understandably upset about getting an F, they are acutely aware that it is on them to improve.their grades.

There are two ironclad rules I follow when it comes to grades and assessments:

1) Students earn their grades - this is something taken for granted, or assumed, but it is amazing how much people think that I (or any teacher, for that matter) just give students their grades. But with that kind of thought, the logical consequence is that I can also just change them at will

2) I do not round quarter averages - let me clarify: I will round to the nearest tenth of a point. An 89.95% is an A- because it rounds to a 90%; 89.94% is a B, because it rounds down to 89.9%.  Harsh?  Maybe, but there is the possibility of it being rounded to the whole point at the end of the year, so there is some mitigation.  

When these two principles have to be applied at the same time, that's when the trolling begins. This usually then calls for the baseball lesson of losing the division in April and May.  What I mean is, when a student approaches me with a borderline grade and wants me to "bump him", I will pull out my gradebook and start reading him some of his grades (of which he should be aware).  

The point of this little exercise is to demonstrate that the quiz with an 8 out of 20 in the first week of the quarter, or the 65% on the first test midway through the quarter is just as much to blame for the lower grade, just as a baseball team can fall completely out of contention with a long losing streak right after the all-star break.  

The end result may not be pleasant, but there is little to be gained by simply giving the student that little bump.  He doesn't learn the lesson and will continue to think he can make up the ground with a furious last minute run.  Sometimes it works; often it falls short.  The C can be made in the first month of the quarter just as it can be in the final weeks.  So it isn't a question of whether I can just "give" points to "bump up" a student, it is a question of whether he understands that poor grades at the beginning can negatively affect the bottom line.

I don't mind the questions, the clarifications, but I draw the line at trolling, and as a result, I definitely need to say...


John Henise said...

Who needs rounding? The trick is to (almost) ace the midterm! Do that, and you're golden for the rest of the year -- no hard work required.

Joshua Lattanzi said...

Touche', John. You are always gonna talk that one up, aren't you ;)

Kyle V. said...

Oh come on, just give them the extra point... :)