Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grading on the curve...

I love stories about students all banding together to say "fuck you" to the establishment.  There's nothing like being one of a bunch of rebellious, belligerent students to make you feel ten feet tall.  I remember back in my far flung High School days we used to get righteously indignant in the way only a sixteen year old can.

A fellow student gets into trouble for getting a crew cut?  Protest to the administration!  Students get told off for holding hands and kissing?  Insist that a no PDA rule should then apply to teachers too (we had a married couple who taught at our school ... the PDA was mild, but present).

So I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle when I read about of bunch of students at John Hopkins University who decided to see if they could beat the curve used to determine their grades.

Apparently these clever little chickadees worked out that if every single one of them refused to do the test, thereby getting a zero for it, then they all would essentially have the highest mark, meaning they would all get the highest possible grade based on the rules of the system.

Ha!  Didn't see that loop hole, did you, Mr Professor person!

In fact, the professor who set the exam was surprisingly cool about the whole thing.  I suspect he was actually proud of them for managing to co-ordinate it all and get that many students to all agree to sit out the exam.  I'm pretty sure battles have been fought that would have required less organisation than getting a hundred or so students to all agree to risk their grade like that.

I'm Australian, so I never really understood the concept of grading on the curve.  When I went to school you got a mark out of a hundred and that mark determined what your grade was.  There wasn't any complicated tables or graphs needed to decide whether you fell into a certain percentile.  If you failed, then you failed!

And we had to walk uphill to school ... in the snow ... carrying approximately thirty seven kilos of books ... and wearing paper bags instead of shoes...

Sorry, I let my inner grumpy old man take over for a bit.

But my point about grading on the curve still stands.  It hardly seems fair to me that you could get a 95%, but if everyone else in the class got 96% then you're going to fail.  95% is not a failing mark!  Hell, I can say that any time I ever got 95% on anything I did heel clicks up and down the street while singing an a capella version of Knees Up Mother Brown!

Besides, I don't know if I would trust a marking system that's more complicated than the exam itself.

49 comments:

  1. In my day, the curve was generally used only when the test was so hard that almost everyone failed, but not always. Sometimes "The Curve" incouraged cheating to knock others score down. Hmmm the concept ov everyone getting zero...interesting.

    Oh, watch your inner grouchy old man young lady, that's my GIG!!

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    1. Consider me your apprentice. Teach me how to be a grouchy old man, sensei!

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  2. I'll agree, grading on a curve is an odd idea. Your grade is your grade, period. Having said that I'll admit to benefiting from a curve a time or two.

    S

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    1. LOL! I suppose if the rest of the class are colossally stupid it wouldn't be a bad thing.

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  3. What I don't understand are these classes where a curve is mandatory for the best and brightest students because the tests are too damn hard. If the upper level students are scoring a 32% on the test and that equates to a 100 on the exam take a look at your teaching style teacher and make some changes!!!!

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    1. Yep, if your highest marked student is getting less than 50%, then your lesson plan needs to be looked at.

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  4. I clicked over & read the article--VERY INTERESTING!!

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    1. I'm just amazed they managed to get a bunch of students to agree on ANYTHING, let alone something that could threaten their grade.

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  5. Yeah I read this when it first hit the news here. Our curve was similar to the first poster and that's the only one I use when I teach. It's a boost not a burden.

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    1. Truthfully I'm not sure how the curve really works, not having experienced it.

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    2. On the few occasions where the test was harder than anticipated and let's say the highest grade was 75 out of 100 a curve would provide some bump to everyone to increase the pass rate. No one would get a perfect score but I might half the possible points to 100. So the highest score becomes 87 and everyone gets the same 12 point bump. That wasn't for every test or even every section if it wasn't necessary. I had one class that the lowest grade was a 70 something so yeah it just depends on the test and the students present.

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  6. It is just plain ridiculous to make a test so hard no one can even pass it. There is absolutely no good data coming from it. It's a waste of time and energy.

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    1. It certainly doesn't tell you if the students are learning what they're supposed to learn.

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  7. Yeah - grading on the curve is very odd. Good for the students for all making a stand.

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    1. I'm frankly astounded they were able to organise it.

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  8. I wouldn't have minded being graded on a curve if there was a subject I was good at, but I was usually at the bottom of the curve.

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    1. I probably would have been slap bang in the middle.

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  9. That's awesome and how could the teacher be upset with a group of kids like that? Kudos to all of them for coming up with such a plan. I love it. :) Let's hope these kiddos choose to use their powers for good and not evil in the future. ;)

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    1. I'm sure they won't be able to get away with it again, but good for them that they managed it this time.

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  10. Grading on the curve is generally designed to make the mediocre (and therefore the teacher and school) look better. Welcome to no child left behind aka rewarding mediocrity and punishing outstanding students.

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    1. It certainly doesn't tell whether the students have learned things.

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  11. Did you read about the LeHigh University grad who sued for her C+? She lost.

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    1. Hmm, I just went and read about it. It sounds interesting, and with the bare information given in the article like she doesn't have a leg to stand on. She wouldn't be the first person in the world to get a bad grade because they had a personality clash with a lecturer, especially in a subjectively marked course, but it's practically impossible to prove wrongdoing in that case.

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  12. I admire the students' smarts - and the professor's sanguine accession. The real triumph here, as the professor acknowledged, was in organising an entire class of competitive high-achievers to participate. (I do feel a bit sorry for any students who philosophically disagreed with the experiment, but felt too pressured not to accede. Planning a sit-out in the hall outside the exam room was nicely done. Imagine the consternation of the class if just one student had 'crossed the line' though.. :)

    I like grading on a curve only for subjects that are marked subjectively, such as English - but for fact-based subjects such as maths and science, you surely either know the material or you don't?

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    1. I'm guessing the lecturer's laid back attitude had more to do with the fact that it was just one grade, and he'll change the guidelines now so it won't happen again. It was like he said, "Fair cop, you got me. But next time won't be so easy"

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  13. It is kind of amazing that they managed to get every student to sit out the exam. Usually at least one will revolt in any given situation, never mind one where their marks are at risk.

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    1. I would guess that having them all sit outside meant that there was an element of peer pressure. It'd be too easy for a student to go in if no one was watching, but with the rest of the class sitting there it'd be a lot harder.

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  14. I am also surprised as Vanessa D. was that a group of young people would all band together and not have a dissenter. It would only take one person to take the test, get a 100% then everyone else would fail...miserably fail. I don't have a problem with a curved grading system if a test is given and everyone does poorly. Either the material wasn't taught to a level of understanding or the test wasn't implemented clearly. But as a general rule, I don't think every last test needs to be calculated to make sure the majority pass.

    Also, as Sandy M. pointed out some subjects are just so subjective....such as writing classes. God, I hope blog readers...read on the curve or mine might fail.

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    1. That's true, it might work better with subjective courses.

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  15. Thanks for stopping by! New follower here. :)

    Did you know "minutes" is misspelled in your header?

    - Karen

    http://www.nadanadalimonada.com

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    1. Welcome! And thank you for pointing that out, I've gone and fixed it. I only put it up last night and I have no idea how I didn't notice!

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  16. Having worked as a teacher, not even I understand the gradings occasionally :S... However, kudos to the students for trying to take a stand :). Also, great blog!

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  17. Wow! I need to go read about that now! I can't believe they made that work for them! I hated curve grading when I was in school. It allows the people who don't really study to still pass the class, and the people who do study to be frustrated.

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    1. I was quite frankly astounded that they did. I guess peer pressure is a wonderful thing when it's used for good instead of evil.

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  18. I am still a high school student , yeah school management sometimes make all of the student annoying. "Don't do this , do that" If you do this you will get 10% low marks. Ugh this curve system!
    Aree With Umbrella

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    1. I just don't understand how a teacher can approve of it. Surely they'd want to know if their students were actually learning things, not hide it with skewed grades.

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  19. I'm with you... I have always felt: If I score a 96, I want a 96. If I score a 71, I deserve a 71. Period. Curve, Smurve... Get rid of it!!!

    Take care, Slu

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  20. I work at a small college in Central Ky and some of our professors grade on a curve for the lower division classes. We really don't have a policy one way or the other - it's up to each invidivual professor. When I was in college a few years back, I only had one professor the entire four years who graded on a curve!

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    1. I guess it depends on where you are. I've never been graded on a curve, so I can't quite wrap my head around the concept.

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  21. When I take classes I want the score/grade that I work for no curves.

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    1. I think I'd be furious if I worked really hard, but got screwed because a bunch of people got a mark or so higher than me.

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  22. I never really understood the curve either, other than needing it to look like people performed better than the actual grade on the paper. This year my son had a test where one person did well in one section of the class, so it "ruined" the curve for both classes...orrrrrrrrr everyone could have tried harder?

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    1. I'd be furious if I got a good mark but my grade was affected by the curve.

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  23. That article made me smile, as did the heels clicking and the singing of Knees up mother Brown, in acapella no less.

    I can imagine students up and down the country going on strike if that were to be introduced over here. How on earth can you have a high grade and it still not count for much??

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  24. We never had the whole curve thing, either. It seems a bit unfair. But then, maybe it could balance out the trend toward grade inflation in some schools?

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  25. I agree with you on not grading on a curve. If you suck, you suck. Either try harder or change classes altogether. Those who are brilliant at certain subjects should be granted their time to shine.

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  26. Holy Crap. I want my scientists and engineers and doctors who went to somewhere as prestigious as John Hopkins to TAKE THEIR DAMN TESTS.

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