William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Sunday, 20, December, 2009

Meditations On Grading

Filed under: Teaching — williamthecoroner @ 00:59

My school uses the software called Blackboard for courses. It’s got a discussion board function, you can send announcements, track assignments, see when people read things, etc., etc., etc. There are two things I do not like about it. One, I could put my lecture Powerpoint slides on Blackboard. I don’t wish to do that with my forensic material, because it is so sensitive. I don’t want anyone even thinking that photos of their dead loved one could show up on a university website. Granted, it is a closed system, only enrolled students could see it, but still, as I would not have it done to me, I prefer not to do it to others. Secondly, the grade function of Blackboard. Oh, my.

It can calculate a student’s grade to two decimal places. And it DOES. Students can see exactly how many marks they have on the system. And they will argue, fight, niggle, and whine over synonyms, or any ambiguity whatever. The registrar recognizes four grades: A, B, C, & F. The fun part is deciding where to put the cut-offs.

Humans being human, they segregate nicely into bell-shaped curves, particularly if there are a lot of them. At the end of the semester I look at the spreadsheet. There’s an obvious cluster at the top. Those are the As. There’s an obvious cluster at the bottom, those are the Cs. The ones earning less than a C dropped out, if they were wise.
Granted, if by some chance the entire class earned the exact same number of marks, they’d all get an A and I would go to Vegas, because there is a disturbance in the Force.

I do wish students would concentrate more on the application of knowledge, and less on the mark. I’ve had people crying in my office, because they “were A students, and now they’re not.” Gee. You’re in graduate school, with all the other stars from undergraduate school. Yes, you may not be the smartest person in the room anymore. Aside from the self-image, I teach foundation courses. The big picture won’t come together with understanding the anatomy, physiology, and pathology until the pharmacology and physical exam and clinical work kicks in.

That process takes a while. So, all my students have to show for their hard work is a number. That is the only concrete evidence of their performance. I get that. I do wish they would concentrate more on the application of knowledge, and the number will come. After all, the official grade is not from Blackboard, that’s for feedback, nor is it what one calculates from the answer key after the test. I’ve written test questions that no-one could answer correctly. I took those out of consideration, because if no-one got it I probably didn’t phrase the question right or didn’t explain it well enough in class.

Hopefully, they’ll put it all together.



  1. Our school has used Blackboard. I never really got used to it, and found it limited for what I wished to do. I won’t go into that… pointless now, as admin dropped it once the grant money ran out (predictably). “You mean this costs us MONEY??”

    Now, we us a custom variation of the Classmate system. This year admin will bring it online so parents can check grades and such, but that is it’s only online function I am aware of.

    Grading… that is another story. I like the way *I* do it, and the students seem to respond well. Using Classmate, I have grades updated daily. Being a tech school, we have a LOT of gradable material, and in my class each student might have two or three gradable assignments to hand in daily. On each of these assignments, they (as a class) were given a zero the moment I gave out the assignment. It’s already on their grade as a zero… a hard, inarguable, zero. When it’s completes, the grade is entered before the next morning. If it’s a tech assignment, the grade is almost always 100% as that’s what it takes to get signed off. Theory assignments are graded in percentages (tests, paper, homework, etc).

    Each day, dozens of students ask me their grade. I pull the paper from my back pocket and do an instant grade conference. The question “Why is my grade so low?” or “How can I bring my grade up?” Is usually answered with a silent pointing of the finger at the lowest grading area. Hand in the work, and the grade goes up…. I like that.

    In a class of 45 students, I have 6 that are jostling daily for highest grade in the class, and that is a joy to watch.

    Comment by Carteach0 — Sunday, 20, December, 2009 @ 07:56 | Reply

  2. I, too, use Blackboard, but my final grade calculations [including attendance and participation scores] are done on a spreadsheet on my home computer. What students get is a letter grade via the Registrar’s software package [different system yet again]. They can protest a grade, but the decimal places are not the crux of their arguments. [If they did…I’d point out that whether I round up or round down depends on how they behaved in class!]

    Comment by Thoryke — Sunday, 20, December, 2009 @ 09:47 | Reply

  3. Good point William, sad part is, today’s generation does NOT understand they are NOT all 1%ers…

    Comment by Old NFO — Sunday, 20, December, 2009 @ 20:49 | Reply

  4. Every semester I get the same song and dance and tears and “you are keeping me from going to medical, pharmacy, nursing, etc. school.”

    Grading makes me nervous. They send me hate mail, I feel hateful back.

    It is nice to read that others get grade appeals and complaints.

    We use Blackboard for distance education and hybrid classes with an Internet component. I put the syllabus on line, some notes, some video–but I feel like it is wasted because the students don’t read. Granted I teach government and in Texas all must have six hours of government at the state colleges and universities to earn a diploma. No one wants to take the class. They fail to see why it matters. Of course I reach some, most I don’t.

    But grading is anxious business.

    Comment by jaye — Sunday, 20, December, 2009 @ 21:20 | Reply

  5. Where I went to Graduate School, there were three grades: A, B and “You’re Gone.” If you were an adequate or better researcher, you always got at least a B. If you were a slacker – “You’re Gone” was not uncommon.

    Comment by H the IH — Sunday, 27, December, 2009 @ 19:49 | Reply

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