I finally finished grading today — an activity that for me always re-enacts Parkinson’s Law.
I find grading very difficult and stressful. It takes a long time.
That it is dreadfully boring is not the worst of it, although it does seem to get more and more boring the more often I teach the same course (the questions change more than the errors do — an indictment of my teaching, no doubt). I feel it requires the utmost care, since the outcomes matter so much to the students. And while I am pretty sure that most of my grades would be the same were I to grade these again next month, especially the A’s B+’s C’s and down, there is a large mass of exams clustering around the C+/B border (we don’t have a B- grade here), where I am pretty sure a degree of randomness, or arbitrariness if you prefer, inevitably creeps in. These are exams with some virtues, far from lost causes, but they each bear several specimens from the menagerie of incommensurable vices. And I must reduce them to a number or letter.
The worst part of it is that I want the students all to do well. And of course they don’t all do well. Blah answers are bad enough. What really drives me ’round the bend are the aggressively wrong ones. How, I ask myself, could they be there in the room with me — and they were there, I take attendance — for so many hours and still think that? How could I have failed to communicate something so basic? And whether or not it was my fault, what will happen if they inflict this misunderstanding on clients? And how, now that they are out of my clutches, will I ever set them straight about it? And, oh look, it’s quite a while since my mind wandered….
We don’t have a curve except for first year students. And I usually let the chips fall where they may. This year, however, I graded a little differently from usual. Thanks to some prodding via a general memo to all the faculty from an Associate Dean, I was slightly more lenient this year. To begin with, in addition to the two-week attendance-taking moratorium right after Wilma, I forgave slightly more absences than I otherwise would have.
In Internet Law I rounded a few grades up instead of, as usual, rounding everything down. (The usual rule is less harsh than it sounds since I give a lot of generous class participation credit, which I find tends to inflate grades. Were I to round up routinely, between rounding and class participation credit, a lucky C+ could become a B+; that’s just too big a leap for me.)
In Administrative Law, I gave every student a 0.125 point (out of 4.0) ‘hurricane bonus’ which resulted in raising a substantial number of grades. Even so, to my surprise, this left me slightly under the five-year average grade distribution for core courses at UM as regards the number of A’s.
Since I submit exam grades on blind grading numbers and simultaneously hand in a list of who will get fixed quantities of class participation credit before I know who got which grade, I don’t have an obvious way to curve grades to achieve some predetermined quota, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t, particularly.
I will say this: if you got an A on my exam, or even as a final grade in my class, you earned it. (Students wishing to see the overall grade distribution for their class can find it at that class’s online presence. Individual grades are only available from the Registrar and via MyUM.)
I would love to teach an extra class in a week or two in which we all went over the exam and discussed it. But I fear that many of the students who would benefit the most from such a thing would not attend.