Monday, November 07, 2016
Rigor and Fairness
- Grading is a core component of academic freedom, and should be left to the professional judgment of individual faculty barring extraordinary circumstances (i.e. harassment).
- Students’ performance should be judged consistently across sections, and their GPA’s should not be held hostage to which section they take.
They might decide that the old-timer who has not bowed to grade inflation really is worth supporting, and that the rest of them have been giving out too many easy A's (a common problem in "elite" schools). Or they might pressure an overly harsh grader to use the same standards that they do.
If there is a series of courses with some prerequisite to others, then looking at how good a predictor the grade in the prerequisite is to the grade in the subsequent class (both controlling for instructor and not) can let the faculty know whether any of their grading is predictive.
The idea of swapping grading only works if the different sections really are teaching exactly the same thing (which may be common in community colleges, but is very rare at the university level—if classes are teaching identical things, they are merged).
The real issue with swapping grading -- at least in math -- is that small changes in the exam can result is large differences in difficulty. Testing implicit differentiation by asking students to find the equation of the tangent line to sin(xy) = x at a specific point? If I want the exam to be hard, I pick (1, pi/2). Easier exam? The origin.
Unless you want to set common exams and have group grading. Ugh. Good luck with that. My thoughts and prayers are with the Calculus Czar.
Regarding having "Scrooge" in course three, I have wonderful memories of some bad and good choices in assigning faculty to a sequence. (This was a large lecture with the same person doing multiple lectures with common exam level and grading policy across the entire block.) Bad: easy person the first term followed by toughest and most misanthropic person in the department in the second term. Awesome: tough person in the first term with the easy person in the third. This is in a sequence where the difficulty level is naturally higher in the second term and lowest in the third.
Huh, that was the only one of the recommendations that didn't strike me as an immediate red flag. Specifying the exact number of class sessions is a little too micro-managery for my tastes, but the basic principle (teach the students HOW to meet a higher standard) is fine. Ordering the professor to lower the standard is not fine; it defrauds the students who actually want to learn and have a reasonable expectation that the courses they take at the community college will be the equivalents of those at the university. It's also unfair to the students who pass the course and then discover they're in over their head when they take a higher-level course after transferring, and to the faculty who have to teach those higher-level courses. (Granted, since most students in this case are probably taking this as their one and only philosophy course to meet a gen ed requirement, this is less of an issue than it would be in a course where most students are expected to take a higher-level course in the same subject -- but still, the students have a right to a class that will set them up to succeed if they choose to do so.)
Each lecturer sets 2 or 3 questions for the final exam (out of 6) and marks them.
It's not going to work once the number of section starts heading towards 4 or more.
[At my university, in the old days, the lecturers would set the exam and then the completed scripts would be sent by boat to Cambridge (IIRC, otherwise Oxford) to be marked and returned by boat. Graduation was 6 months after the final exams in order to have time for the turnaround. That's stopped now and the only hangover is that graduation is so long after exams.]
With respect to standards, how high is too high and how low is too low? If every student in a section gets an A or B, is that okay? What if a professor only hands out one A and 3 Bs out of five sections?
In an old job, I saw the paper Scantron forms that professors turned in and had the opportunity to do reports and queries to compare professors and sections over time. Some professors would use the side of a pencil to shade the A column all the way down the page. Others had such high standards that they had a 50%+ drop rate in their classes and typically awarded less than one A per section. One professor consistently had over 75% of his students drop or fail.
I think #2 is far more important than #1; it's a mistake to treat standards primarily as a matter of "academic freedom" for individual professors. Some professors are jerks. Some professors have standards that are so low they barely exist while others are loath to allow more than a couple of students per section to earn a B. Standards should be worked out collectively to reflect the goals of the institution. Faculty should be shooting for the same target even if they sometimes disagree whether a student has hit the mark.
Different institutions may have different goals. If Harvard or MIT wants to use Honors Calculus as a weed-out course for their math majors, that's fine. But Local Community College probably just wants to ensure that Calc I students will be able to do well in Calc II or to succeed at Regional University. If Lone Professor at Local Community College decides that his students should be held to the Harvard/MIT standard, he's just being a tyrant.
But one of the other changes, cutting content by 20%, was necessitated to make room for 5 days of remediation for the shortcomings of their composition classes. I would also infer that limiting papers to just a few pages has been done for the same reason. My college has composition classes that teach students how to meet the higher standard of college-level writing for subsequent classes that require major papers, and uses prerequisites to enforce that.
Anonymous @5:32 AM
Calculus at different times of day can be as different as the people teaching it at my CC. Students who take calculus at a nearby university report vast differences, where one section has all of its exams taken on a computer using a commercial program while another uses hand-graded tests.