Monday, May 09, 2011


Ask the Administrator: Final Grade Windows

A regular correspondent writes:

Apropos to the time of year... how long is it reasonable to expect faculty to turn around grades? What's it like at your CC? What do your wise and wordily readers experience? I am usually given no more than 48 hours at my various adjunct gigs. I can do that, but can't always give final exams/projects the time I'd like. I make projects due a week earlier than the last class, but student (of course) malinger and hand them during the final class. It also leads some colleagues to give their final exam a week early and blow off the scheduled final, which I know is always a perennial bugaboo.

This is one of those questions that seems like it has an obvious answer, until you actually look at it.

Nearly everyplace I’ve worked, the gap between the last day of finals and the deadline for final grades has been absurdly short: 48 hours sounds about right. If you have the lousy luck to have your exam scheduled at the end, and you assign something reasonably substantive, then you’re basically locked in grading jail for the last few days. Given the absurdity of the situation, of course, corner-cutting is rampant. The most common form of that is just moving the exam up a week into the body of the semester, and treating the exam period as a combination of grading time and early vacation. From one perspective, the obvious answer is just to add a few days between the end of finals and the grade deadline.

But stretching out the gap between the end of finals and the submission of final grades has consequences.

The deadlines on the back end are graduation certifications, the beginning of summer session, and student demand for transcripts as they go elsewhere. On the front end, intersession can’t overlap with Spring semester, and the MLK holiday can’t be moved. In between, our accreditation requires a certain number of class hours, which, in practice, requires a certain number of weeks. We try to maintain equal numbers of each day of the week, to recognize the predictable holidays -- Thanksgiving weekend in the Fall is a biggie -- and to build in some wiggle room for snow days. (This year that was especially important.) None of this is glamorous or cerebral, but it all matters. Within all those constraints, building an academic calendar resembles the old logic problems from high school algebra. (“two more than the number that got on at the last stop get on at the next stop...”)

Some schools dodge the issue by coming in under the actually required number of hours of seat time for credit hours. Lop a week off of teaching, and you build in more time for grading. In practice, some faculty do this individually, on a below-the-radar basis, by giving the final on the last day of class. Of course, that defeats the purpose of the “reading day,” and makes it difficult for students to catch up.

If it were up to me, the answer would be to do away with final exams as final exams, and to have classes run to the bitter end. But the folks who like to give “common” finals across sections don’t like that -- they have a point -- and the folks who effectively start vacation a week early would prefer not to rock the boat. Between the two groups, it’s hard to get critical mass for a change.

Wise and worldly readers, how much time does your college give between the last exam day and the grade deadline? Is there an elegant way around this?

This semester:

Last day of finals: May 12
Grades due: May 16
Graduation: May 20

I will mention that faculty have had access to the graduation list for 2 weeks now, so I have checked and know which students I need to keep an eye on and report as soon as their finals have been graded. I will also mention that we are a fairly small CC, so there are only about 200-300 graduating.

For fall, last day of exams was 12/23 and the grades were due 12/28. To me, that was much more difficult, because there were those little things called holidays in between. I am the mom (aka as Santa) and I have three kids who were 7, 4 and 2 this past year. I'm a pretty dedicated faculty member, but my kids come first for the holiday. I submitted those grades on 12/27.
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We also get an e-mailed list of graduating students from student services -- I think it's automated -- with a reminder of the date their grades have to be turned in for them to graduate officially. I usually crank through final grading pretty quickly but in semesters where I know I won't get it all done by the "graduation" deadline (rather than the slightly later grading deadline), I do grade the grads first and turn those in as fast as I can.

We're not required to finish the grads on time -- student services sorts it out afterward if we don't -- but most profs make an effort.

We do also do a lot of letter-writing in April; one of the state universities that a lot of our grads transfer to has an absurdly early deadline for them to transfer enrollment for fall, and they must know they're graduating in mid-April. So like clockwork every April I have to calculate grades for half a dozen students, figure out what the range of their possible final grade is, and write a letter saying "Joe Schmoe currently has an A and it is not mathematically possible for him to fail. The lowest grade he could receive is a 71, though I expect his excellent work to continue." Or "Jane Doe is pulling a C and has a final grade range of 58-88." And those go to the registrar who sends them on to the other school. Now THAT is annoying.
You think grading for a week is "early vacation"? Seriously?

The last day of final exams is Friday (though most exams take place by Thursday because of how the schedule works) and final grades are due by the following Tuesday morning. This is entirely reasonable. Less than that would NOT be reasonable, and in writing-heavy disciplines, it would encourage people to hold their finals during the last week of classes, not because they want "early vacation" but because they want to actually grade their students fairly as opposed to just slapping a grade on each and hoping for the best.

Intercession courses at my institution begin on Monday. The world does not come to an end because of the overlap. It's also worth noting that our semesters are 16 weeks long (15 plus finals) and there are no "reading days."
At a CC:

Final exams end on Friday afternoon except for a few on Saturday, "graduation" is on Saturday, and grades are due at mid-morning Monday. (Students at graduation do not get a real diploma. The exceptions are professional AS degrees like Nursing, where final grades are complete albeit not on any transcript before the pinning ceremony - which is before "graduation".)

Grades are due about 6 hours before they actually need to be submitted because the college has not embraced what technology has given us. The day of the deadline is also unrelated to the start of the next semester. If it is dictated by the transfer bureaucracy, no one has told us.

If your final exam is at 8AM on Monday, you have a week to get your grades into the system.
Having worked with faculty for many years, we do also need to accept that if you have waited until the very last day to input and tally all your grades you have created your own problem. If you have Blackboard (or other web-based learning system) available, use it. Input your grades as you go and then all you have left to put in is the final grades and it does the math magic for you. I know grading a lot of finals is a lot of work but if you've left everything till the end, all the blame does not fall on the final exam schedule/registrar's due date for grades.
"You think grading for a week is "early vacation"? Seriously?"

Uh, yes... surely the issue is that if you spend the last week of class grading instead of doing the exams, then you do get 'early vaction' compared to the people who had their finals in that last week, and have to grade them later on i.e. you are finished sooner?
Our last scheduled final ends at 11:50 AM on Thursday. Final grades are due at noon on Friday. I do a multiple choice final. It is the only multiple choice test of the semester.
Anon 6:01:
For what it's worth, I do hold my final exams in the final exam period, mainly because there is a reasonable turn-around-time at my institution to give a final that is pedagogically useful for students and that fits with what we do in my discipline.

My comment was more about the fact that the LAST thing I'd call a vacation in the WHOLE WORLD would be grading. I mean, seriously.
This semester, the last day of finals was last Friday (5/6); grades are due today by 6 PM (we submit them on-line and they "post" immediately). Commencement is this Thursday (5/12).

There's no good way to deal with this, especially for people teaching really writing-intensive courses (which I do not; this semester, I had 120 students in three intro econ sections, and my finals were multiple choice).
Exam on Friday, grades due on Monday? Goddess forbid you need a weekend to look after other humans, or yourself.
We're (SLAC) lucky in that we don't have a summer session that we're bumping into, and our graduation is about 2 weeks after classes end. Also we have a very long winter break (6ish weeks). So, grades are usually due 10 days to 2 weeks after the last final exam, and aside from my own procrastinatory ways I've never had any problem getting them done in time. The deadline for graduating seniors is a week shorter, which is still plenty of time.

Last day of finals: May 21st
Grades due: June 1st
Senior grades due: May 26th
Worst I've had was two sections of exams coming in 5 PM Monday, marks due 9 AM Tuesday. No exceptions. Exam was written assuming two days to mark (as per original schedule), so I'd written a writing-heavy exam and I wasn't permitted to change it.

I broke down and got help marking. Two friends and I spent 14 hours marking straight.

My respect for the administration who set the schedule and wouldn't correct their mistake or let me modify the exam took a real hit.
Northern Illinois used to use carbonless scantrons for grade rolls, with varying deadlines, the most onerous of which was the exam late on Friday during the fall semester, for which the grade roll was due at either 10 am or noon the following Monday.

The university now uses a server in which grades, once computed, are considered immediately posted. The deadlines are a bit more generous, and in the spring term, the last examination day is Thursday, with some colleges permitting posting up to 4.30 pm on the following Monday.

The great source of anxiety for seniors is that the graduation ceremonies (there being no room large enough for all of them at once) are on the Saturday and Sunday, prior to the closing of postings.
My 4-year school has the last final on Fri 5/13 and grades due on Wed 5/18. That is enough time, even with preparing and grading exams in multiple different courses. As an evening adjunct elsewhere I was in a situation of having 2 business days allowed between the final and the course-specific grade deadline. I was able to swing a Thursday final so I could grade over the weekend, which was a lifesaver since I couldn't grade during my regular 9-5 job.
And people wonder why complaints about learning higher ed take root. Even if you can turn around writing intensive courses in a few days, you're not going to get valuable engagement from the prof. So what you then say is that satisfying graduation requirements is more important than what is learned, except that - doh! - there are so many graduates out there that the degree isn't actually worth very much. I've been lucky to avoid some of the horror stories here, and have usually had over a week for grading, but the 10% grade multiple choice final looks increasingly attractive.
This semester:
May 13 last day of finals (9 to noon)
May 12, noon Senior grades due
May 21 Commencement
May 24, 4 pm Non-senior grades due

You can get an extension for senior grades (1 business day) if your exam falls on the 11, 12, or 13. My class falls on the 10 from 6 pm to 9 pm. Thursday morning I have a meeting all day. Wednesday will be a day of mad grading.
I'm officially jealous of all people. Between my last 2 finals/essay submissions and the time grades are due, I have 18 hours. And, yes, about 8 of those 18 hours are the hours people generally like to sleep during.
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