Tough grading moments….

One of the toughest things about grading is when the students with 79% or 89% ask/plead/argue for the B- or the A-. I do round an 89.5% or higher, to the 90%. I think that’s just doing proper rounding, as I like to teach in my classes, as opposed to truncating the grades. [Don’t know what truncating is? You can find out here] . But then, the 89.2% kid asks for the A-, too. I would be inclined if their test scores were in the A range, but they weren’t completing all the assignments, and so homework was dragging the grade down. But, if the test scores are in the B range, and homework completion is bringing the grade up to B+, I think that’s good enough.

I have several students who’ve missed a lot of school, or have ADHD and just don’t complete every assignment, or just never are there or aren’t organized enough to present the assignments for credit. If they have high test scores, I’m inclined to round their grades towards those test scores. However, high homework scores with lower test scores are not a compelling argument for me to round the grades higher, even though that’s the request I get a lot.

We just had final exams, another tough grading challenge. I think it’s normal for students to score about one grade lower on the final exam than their unit test scores. And, when that happens, I usually let them keep the grade they earned prior to the exam. An example would be a student who had a B in the course, earned a C on the final, bringing their grade to a B-. I would be inclined to let them keep the B. But, if they score low on the final (a D or an F), I do let the grade drop, but not by more that a half a grade. And, if that same student with the B earned a D on the final, they would end up with a B-. They see the B part and are still feeling content, I think. However, if a student had a B- to begin with, scored a D on the final, and ended up with a C+, they will see the C and possibly (probably) be upset about the outcome. The difference in the GPA would be the same (0.3 points) but, suddenly, the letter B to the letter C is very noticeable. That’s when I get the email with the ask/plead/argue message. Sometimes the parents get involved, too. But, I have to stick with my convictions on the grading in these situations.

My grading policies and decisions around tests versus homework and semester grade versus final exam grade are pretty generous in my opinion. Many teachers let the computer calculate the grade based on the settings for the weights they decided at the start of the semester. Many others make exceptions, too.

In addition to the above rules of thumb around my grading decisions at the end of the semester, during the semester I’ve been known to drop some low scores when the class doesn’t do well on a quiz. I think that I didn’t teach them very well when that happens, and we revisit the material.

Algebra 2 is a hard class and not everyone will get an A, even if they usually get As in other classes or in prior math classes. This is one of the tougher lessons for high school students to learn. They are hitting a level of math that really requires studying, critical thinking and perseverance for the longer, more involved problems. They aren’t all ready for that level of problem solving. Even if they are, the course is content rich, meaning there is a lot to learn and a set amount of time in which to learn it.

Students are busy with tough course loads, sports, hobbies or jobs, and social and family activities. Many students don’t have adequate time outside of school to study as much as they need to in order to get the grade they want. Others make sacrifices and get every assignment done every day. They come in and ask questions after they’ve tried to figure things out on their own. Some ask questions immediately without giving themselves time to try a solution, because they are used to the quick answer or they feel pressed to get the questions answered quickly, without a deeper understanding for when the next question comes. In learning math, you learn so much from making mistakes and trying new approaches. Especially at this level. But, I think that requires a level of calm and concentration that many teens aren’t used to. Trial and error are involved. I try to talk abut this to my students when I can.

Some people may wonder about the purpose of the final. Well, I think it’s important to review what they learned over the year. I think it’s important to have a idea of what they’ve retained and to remind students what they need to know for the next course. I think it’s good for them to have an idea of what they remember and what they may need to re-study. And, I don’t let the final exam kill their grade. I think that’s the bad part about finals, which is why I have some of the policies listed above. A final exam can bring a student’s semester grade down much more than it can raise it.

I plan to include these grading philosophies and practices, and study tips and techniques for retention and deeper understanding in my beginning of the year mini-unit next year. I introduced the idea in my blog post  Summer reading, relaxing and revamping…. and will post it when it’s done.

Comments, experiences, input welcome…

4 thoughts on “Tough grading moments….

  1. Claire

    I’ve been thinking about the purpose of the (multiple choice) final lately, if the only reason we give it in that format is because of ease of grading for teachers at the end of a semester, but the grades don’t end up reflecting what I feel is their understanding. Our department gives common exams, so we have to give multiple choice if that’s what everyone else wants. But each semester, the multiple choice exam grades are disastrous and even if I curve the scores, they are bad on the bottom end of the curve.

    I’ve been the lone honors pre calculus teacher for a number of years, and about 6 years ago I switched to a non multiple choice final for many reasons. Although the grades were not as good as a normal exam, they were a better reflection of what I felt my students learned over the semester. I wonder if that would be true with my algebra 1 students? Now, if only I could convince my colleagues.

    I agree with you that there is value in synthesizing info from a semester for a cumulative exam. They will need this for SATs, ACTs, college midterms and finals… Even for many careers. My next door neighbor is a fireman and he has to take lots of exams to advance in his career.


    1. quantgal Post author

      Yes, great comments, Claire . I do a mixed exam for Algebra 2. Part multiple choice, part free response and there are two sections. One with a calculator and one without. I also leave space to show work for partial credit even on multiple choice. Email me and I’ll send it to you, if you want to look at it. It’s not the best exam on the planet, but it’s not the worst either. 🙂


  2. mathconfidence

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on comprehensive exams.
    Comprehensive is usually more challenging than slivered (unit exams) as students need to be able to be flexible and adaptable in their thinking and problem solving. They also have to recognize content and categorize it.
    Today is the first day of Regents exams here in NY.
    Best wishes to all students everywhere on the end of the school year.
    Will send you an email re Alg 2 final
    Thx Robin



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