Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to succeed in college
without really trying

More specifically, how to get a perfect score on a final examination without taking it (Inside Higher Ed).

I’ll say what no one commenting on the article has said: the organizers should be ashamed of themselves, as should those who went along.


Here’s a later post that explains why these students should not have received 100s.

comments: 9

Matthew Schmeer said...

I beg to differ. The professor should be ashamed of himself on two points. First, curved grading unjustly rewards and unjustly punishes. The professor should have a grading scale, stick to it, and not grade on a curve UNLESS your program mandates a certain grade distribution per course.

I am against curving because one of the primary reasons professors use curved grades is to predetermine the number of As, Bs, & Cs, etc. for a test or course, and the only reason to do that is to stop grade inflation--but it is an awfully dehumanizing way to do it and removes the professor from culpability. Maybe if professors found time to talk to students and get to know what is holding them back from succeeding in the course (and I am talking the understanding of course content, not the students' personal lives), then student knowledge as measured by professor-designed grading methods could be more accurately measured.

I want my students to strive to perform to their best of their abilities as measured against a known standard; curved grading makes that standard a moving target dependent on forces neither the professor nor the individual student can control--the performance or non-performance of other students.

The second reason given for curving grades is to "adjust" overall poor performance on quiz, test, or exam. But if the entire class performed below expectations, then there are several reasons this might be so: 1) the professor taught the material poorly, 2) the professor did not spend enough time teaching the material, 3) the test was poorly designed, or 4) the students as a whole were underprepared. In any of these cases, curving a grade does no favors to the students, the professor, or the material. Instead, the professor should evaluate a better course of action: reexamination, a different method of student evaluation (oral exams, demonstrations of knowledge application, etc.), a "mid-stream" adjustment to the course schedule to discuss the issues with the material the students seem to be having, etc. Curving the grades for underwhelming overall performance is the lazy way out and does a disservice to the students' understanding of the materual.

Finally, the other reason Professor Frölich should be ashamed of himself is for validating the students' boycott. He should have given them all zeros, because 0/100 is 0. If the exam counts as 100 points, no one gets those points but those 100 points are still calculated into the course grade. Doing this, he still abides by his policy and lets students know that while boycotts are great for making political statements and making your voice heard, you still have to suffer the consequences of your actions.

Sara said...


Michael Leddy said...

I don’t approve of curves either, Matthew. But what the students did here — finding and exploiting a loophole — seems to me a separate issue. Nor do I approve of the professor's decision to give these students 100s. But if he did not, he’d face, I assume, grade appeals galore for violating the terms of his syllabus. The students in these classes raised the stakes in an absurd and contemptuous manner, and I don’t think they would be willing to settle for grades of zero.

Michael Leddy said...

And Sara, I’m with you: wow.

Berit said...

My other, perhaps better, half is a programmer by profession, and so are 9 in 10 of his friends.

It may be that I am inappropriately injecting my impressions acquired from interaction with them into my evaluation of this situation, but I find this incident acceptable, and his final decision to be the only appropriate one.

Programming, as I understand it, is all about the establishment, DOCUMENTATION, and refinement of systems. It is full of the writing of "test questions" by one party, then the "testing" of the work by others utilizing those questions.

Whatever their reasons, Professors often maintain bombastic, larger than life personas, and considering the subject in particular--the charges and challenges he issued to his students as that persona--it may have been entirely appropriate and even "his due".

Though I feel the information given is less than I would like to have before forming an opinion, I will side with the students' actions as acceptable and the result as correct about 70%/30%.

I would not feel the same way if this had occurred in, say, a writing course, or graphic design (my major). I would then disagree with the students. In that case, I would very much abhor the students as having willfully rejected their duty to their work.

Michael Leddy said...

I can’t see how a professor’s persona, whatever form it might take, justifies what these students did. They could have also given him his comeuppance, deserved or not, by pointing out the flaw in his system.

My wife Elaine points out that these students may have done much to bring about the end of the curve.

On an unrelated note, Berit, an expert on telephony left a long comment on this post that addresses your questions about exchange names.

Matthew Schmeer said...

I honestly thought Sara was "wowing" my extensive comment! I have never left a comment on any blog that long--so, sorry about that.

I can't fault the students here. It was a creative solution to a problem. But circumventing the system is EASY. It's easy to bend a rule than to follow a rule, easier to convince or prevent others from following their own conscience (notice that the students were prepared to STOP students from taking the exam if a student attempted to do so) so you can be rewarded.

So, yes, I agree that it was unethical behavior. That said, remember the old canard: "A student's job is to find the easiest way to make an A. The professor's job is to stop him."

Not stop them from making As, of course--but to stop them from taking the easy road.

Michael Leddy said...

Matthew, I saw both comments and put them on (or “approved them,” to use Blogger’s language) at the same time. So no, Sara didn’t see your comment before leaving hers.

About the canard: I’d prefer not to think of myself as the frustrater of schemes and scams. I’m sure you feel the same way. I think the transformation of the syllabus into an ever-more detailed effort to avoid exceptions and loopholes is an unfortunate development in higher education.

Thinking about some of the other news from academia today, I’d say that maybe the professor in this situation should sue his students. :)

Vash said...

If they all pass the class, and fail the next class, they have to retake the first class to learn what is necessary to finish the second class.

I see no problem here.