Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grading on a Curve

It's been an angsty holiday season.

The big news has been that after the entire semester was over, even four days after the grading input system was supposed to be online, we were informed that the university was going to grade all classes on a curve. The university previously graded classes of 20 students or more on a curve, and the rest were absolute grading. Overtime there has been grade inflation, and the Ministry of Education has decided to link stats on the universities to the apportioning of spots for college freshmen (as fewer kids are born each year, there are too many universities compared to the number of students, and to make the process somewhat fairer, instead of just letting survival of the fittest proceed, the government has decided to reduce the number of admitted students based on the university's performance in key areas.)

I am against curves on principle because I see them as discouraging students who self-evaluate themselves as less competitive for a limited number of As. They also benefit anyone who had more advantages due to previous investment in education--including time overseas, and attending the best cram schools. Curves don't reward the most improvement. They keep the elite on top, and keep the rest down below, enforcing a larger gap between the elite and the rest than in truth exists.

But right now what I think is really bad is changing the rules of the game after the match has been played. My classes are actually extremely rigorous with many grading points, and I can turn those grading points into a curve. However, the class was not designed to make the curve fair: for example in the Korean Folklore class, the one with the videos, I had the following grading points:

  • Attendance (10%)
  • Participation (20%)
  • A paper on Goseong Ogwangdae worth 10% of the grade. The prompt was to compare in class reading (we read it aloud in two groups) of the dialogue and watching the performance to explain what you could learn from the performance that you could not learn from just reading. It was basically a paper to make students realize the importance of getting actual experience. 
  • Two videos (50% combined including the information on the web pages and the Youtube video page to direct anyone to learn more from our other videos and clarifying their sources). 
  • A paper reflecting on their position as modern people and their experiences with tradition-- the prompt was "How is an ancient culture and a modern world reconciled in your own life?" This was also 10% 
The class was very successful. The students who finished all the work on time ALL scored 90 and above. But now I have to give 30% of the students a C or lower, and those who didn't finish the work does not exceed 30%. This means the student with 90% becomes, suddenly, a C student. That is not right. 

Now I could have used a couple quizzes during this class, made one video, and so on, in order to make the spread of grades wider. But when I had already designed the syllabus as above, and my students made such uniformly good videos, what am I supposed to do? The two papers, only worth 20% of their grades, were also quite good. Of course there was variation-- but the variation was not great. 

My other three classes were a little simpler to grade, but there is always someone who is really losing out in this system, like the woman with a 90 who has to get a C+. 

I have attended two meetings on the issue, and spoken publicly in opposition to the policy (and now wonder if I will pass my next review). I also sent a passionate letter to the president. But it seems that nothing is going to change, very discouraging.
Photo from the Second Meeting

1 comment:

M. Monroe said...

I've been following this on Facebook. I've watched many of the videos too. Your students outdid themselves and really demonstrated the excellence of your class and curriculum. I'm so sorry it hasn't been going well. I hope all the students can try to keep their interest going so that their work will continue to excel, but I know that would be difficult. Keep fighting the good fight!