Thursday, December 14, 2006

Random Bullets of Grading Hell

Because it's all about the grading this week.

  • PhD qualifying exams were scored this week, and all but one passed. Of the passing grades, though, only one really impressed me. One wonders what the qualifying exam will measure that coursework will not, though perhaps it's the speed with which it is measured...The student who failed gets to try again in the spring. Lucky student. Lucky me, too, who gets to read the next 25-page attempt.
  • I am at this moment wading through undergrad exams. I wish I knew of a way to really measure what I want to measure without wading through pages and pages of handwritten text. That said, some students are actually exercising their capacity for original thinking in this exam, not just regurgitating my own words. Although the regurgitation abounds.
  • I am in the middle of grading seminar papers, and here, I must say, I am stuck. What, at the 700-level, distinguishes a B+ paper from an A-? This to me, is an unanswerable, but absolutely crucial question. What about a paper that applies the obvious (but complex) theory to an already overdone text? It adds nothing to the current discussion, but it is sound, well-written and thoughtful. What about the structural and stylistic mess that is based on a fundamentally brilliant premise, but is two or three really good revisions (expand, unpack, rephraser) away from a life beyond this iteration? What about the clever, stylish, smart paper that needs beefing up with theoretical rigor? What about the metholodological experiment that is executed well, but seems to turn out to have been not worth the energy because it yielded results largely predictable without the methodological brouhaha? Fortunately, there are two flat-out brilliant papers in the batch. At least I know what an A looks like.


Anonymous said...

Good luck on the grading nightmares! I'm avoiding finishing up a chapter. Would trade work with you if I could, just to get some variety!

With the grad seminar ---- what is the dept's thinking about Bs? Some schools/depts hand out Bs and As willy-nilly, it seems; in my dept. I heard a professor sternly telling a student that they should not be getting Bs, that it was a coded message to grads that their work was not up to graduate level and they needed to shape up or get out. So, if your dept. works that way and you pass out a pack of Bs you will be really freaking out a bunch of grad students. ... Not that you might not need to do that. But you should be aware of what you're doing.

Good luck with your conundrum! The comments, not the little letters, are what always helped me.


Tenured Radical said...


I have always liked the Harvard Biz school model -- you give a 1, 2 or a 3. 1 is exceptional, most people get a 2, and a 3 means "Do you really want to be in school? Can we talk?"

Happy hols,


negativecapability said...

The best approach that I encountered in coursework was a prof who assigned separate grades for the paper and the seminar - that is, you could get an "A" in the seminar regardless of what you got on your paper. This was in some ways to account for the papers that apply the obvious theory to the overdone text, but do it well (I didn't get this at the time, but we had a conversation about this recently). The grade on the paper was an attempt to convey what would happen if you sent that paper to a hypothetical journal - A is accepted, A- for minor revisions, B+ for more revisions, B for revise and resubmit...etc. Still not a perfect system, but I liked the attempt to tell us what would happen to us in the "real world" without killing our seminar grades if we had otherwise performed well. I would rather know that my paper adds nothing to the discussion now and learn how to fix that problem then get an A because it was a well-written paper.