April 07, 2008
You Can't See It... But I'm Making My "RAR!" Face
Ah yes... the snow has melted, the squirrles have come out of hibernation, and the sounds of agonized college instructors from a certain college calculating their grades proir to them being signed-off on by their craptacular boss fill the air.

That's right folks, its end of Term II and I am rage filled. Why, you ask? Here's a snippet from the email exchange I engaged in with my boss. You'll note, it starts with a simple question:

Me: I understand that you want us to have the portfolios that need to be signed off on to you today. However, here's my quick question. What if a portfolio, based on a rough estimate of grades, is an A- BUT participation and their final grade bump them up to an A, or, conversely, down from an A to an A-?

Boss Man: What you're describing sounds like an A-. (Unanswered Question #1)

Me: And I understand that. My question is, what happens if those grades, which are NOT included in the portfolio grade, bump the student's grade up from an A- to an A? Do I need to re-submit to you, or make a case to you, or something along those lines? (Notice, I have just asked THE SAME QUESTION...)

Boss Man: Make a case based on accomplishment rather than improvement. The average number of As per section so far is 1.7. (Notice how adroitly this man has managed NOT to answer my question. Rather than provide a straight answer, he attempts to blind me with lame-o statistics...)

Pause: Dear reader(s), what you need to understand is that the college I work at has this thing with grade inflation. They don't want it to happen. So rather than letting the chips fall where they may, they cook the f*cking books. They put a cap on how many As may be give in a term, and have instituted this new policy where we have to send our boss our A grades in a ranked order so that he may cut the bottom two.

Me: How are you differentiating between "accomplishment' and "improvement,' as those are two very ambiguous words. To me, its a pretty big accomplishment if a student has re-written and revised a paper four or five times to the point where they no longer focus on a summary of texts, but rather argument. This additionally shows improvement as they have improved their academic writing skills from reportage to argument. See what I mean? (You'll note that at this point, I've changed tactics. I'm asking for clarification still, but I'm focusing on words that can be interpreted many different ways...)

Boss Man: If the final result is an A portfolio with no halo effect, then the grade is an earned A. (Go ahead and ask... cause I did... What the HELL is a "halo effect?")

Me: What do mean by "halo effect"? I apologize for the deluge of questions, I just want to make sure that I'm doing right by my students.

Boss Man: Yes, I do understand; but you also must make sure they meet the standards of the Program. I have the same problem every term. (Notice: UNASWERED QUESTION #3... WTF, dude!)

Me: (highly irate by this time... as I've yet to get a straight answer) they do meet the standards. I'm not willy nilly handing out letter grades. I've kept very diligent records of all required elements that this course contains. These are not students who, out of the kindness of my heart, I want to gift an A to. Rather, these are students who, when the accounting is completed (and I've run a few different scenarios) are potentially bumped up from an A- to an A based on the merit of their participation (which is almost equal to the portfolio grade as it is 40% of the final grade). We're talking students who have done every single one of the 27 homework assignments I gave them, haven't missed a single class, scored an A on their presentations, and have diligently revised and reworked all essays, even if the essay already earned an A- or A. These are students who's preliminary portfolio grades add up more than a 1.8 , which when you add that with a possible 2.0 on the remaining grading requirements (participation and a final) they score a higher than an 3.8 overall.

These are contentious, hardworking students who have excelled within the writing program for the simple reason that they consistently make the most effort to improve their writing skills so that they are accomplishing the goals set before them by their instructor and, subsequently, the writing program. This is why, for me, those two words accomplishment and improvement are ambiguous as a select few students have improved to the point that their resulting improvements are accomplishments in themselves.

So when I say I'm trying to do right by my students, do not think that this is an easy task. I've already dumped from A consideration, without remorse, an additional 3 students who received high A- but not high enough (i.e. a 1.7-1.8 combined portfolio grade).

And I'm still unsure what you mean by "halo effect."

Pause: At this point, my boss switches tactics. I'm pretty certain the next email he sent me, under the heading of "Standards," was BCCed to all sorts of grand and powerful people. Take a gander... you'll note that he changes to the use of my full name and pretty much says I'm sh*t walking the earth.

Boss Man: Christina,The short answer is four As in Term I put you on the radar screen with the powers. History shows that three As per lecturer is the average for Term II. Dr. Coleman and I invented averaging the draft grades two years ago to help lecturers prevent grade inflation. If you average the grades for just the 10-pager, I bet you will avoid grade inflation neatly.

And finally... me. Again. And BTW--NOBODY GAVE THEM GRADES ON THE 10-PAGER. We gave what is commonly known as ghost grades so as to motivate the slackers to complete the assignment. Also... who averages grades on drafts, I ask you? NO ONE would ever get an A. And I bet you $10 my boss doesn't do it...

Me: (after slyly hitting REPLY ALL so it goes to The Powers as well as Bossman) This last email has confused me. At the beginning of this term, you informed me that I was one of two new instructors that graded as the department and the college wished us to grade, and thus did not "give away the store" as some of the other instructors did. I was under the assumption, based on the praise that you verbally gave me, that my grading was actually quite rigorous. Was this an inaccurate assumption to make, as it appears that the four As I awarded my Term I students were in fact something that has brought me under scrutiny?

I do not feel as though I am engaging in grade inflation. Rather, I was attempting to raise some, what I viewed, as pertinent questions regarding the grading of ALL elements for this class. I believe for next year the percentages awarded to various categories need to be looked at and evaluated. 40% of their grade is based on participation--if a B+ or A- student (for arguments sake) turns in all the homework, does not miss a single class, gives a really solid presentation, etc., there is a possibility that this participation grade can drive their overall grade up to an A. Like wise, the opposite is possible: a student who has an A portfolio could be a student who's missed a number of class, presented badly, and missed a handful of homeworks. The 40%, if a "bad" grade, can drive the grade down from an A to B+ or lower.

My emails were not intended to incite any sort of verbal sparring. Rather, I was seeking some understanding of how you were going to be evaluating my students portfolio vis-à-vis the grading of the remaining elements (participation and the final). Additionally, all I requested was further clarification of terms and ideas that can, very plausibly, be interpreted differently by individuals.

If this is something that I need to be evaluated or coached on by "the powers," then I am open to that criticism, as it may be helpful to my continuing development as an instructor.

Heh. Lets see what happens. I'm emailing all my A students a congratulatory note anyways so if they don't get the A... they can sick mommy and daddy on the spineless wonder that is Bossman.

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posted by Tina at 6:07 PM
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