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Kick it to the Curve - A Recovering Physicist's Apology

About Kick it to the Curve

Previous Entry Kick it to the Curve Mar. 17th, 2006 @ 10:42 pm Next Entry
I finished my final grades (for the second time) for both first and second grade special lesson classes, and I am not all together happy with the results. But let me back up and give some important facts about me and my class. The first thing you should realize is that I am a big fan of the curve. There is only perhaps one physics exam I would have legitimately passed without the curve. The curve is a fair way to evaluate both the class and the teacher. It is also a very nice tool to really push students because the curve will swoop in and help them. If they are actually deserve saving. One of my profs told us a horror story about taking a solid state graduate level exam. Out of 100 points he earned 4. His score was 4/100, which corresponded exactly to the average final grade B+. We never had that severe a curve in my physics classes but there were plenty of 40/100 is still an A. The easiest curve to apply is simply let the highest score in the class equal 100%. This can be devastating if one (and only one student) dominated, but if all the students are about the same level this is an easy way to do it.

There is always another way to effectively curve data and that is bin size. In America our standard bin sizes are A = 90-100%, B = 80-89%, C = 70-79%, etc. But Flora was telling us that in Ireland their bin sizes are much larger, they use A = 80-100%, B = 60–89%, etc. This is another way to curve the data and make it fairer.

Next is I think that participation needs to count for something. In physics classes did could not count for a lot (maybe the difference between a B+/A-), but this is a language class gosh darn it! They need to talk, they need to engage me, they need to try, and they need to listen. So I worked into my calculation of their grade participation points.

The next point I need to say is, my class is very hard. My instructions are in English, handouts are in English, activities are in English. It is an English class that features some Japanese for basic ideas. I think that total immersion is a more effective way to learn a language, but (being someone that knows this) it is also very difficult and very frustrating.
After reviewing my kids scores, I curved both ways. Only about 3 kids out of 20 would have gotten an A. About 5 a B, and all the rest Cs. That’s not fair. There is more to that distribution than the kids were not smart or didn’t try. I know that, so I increased bin size and set the highest grade equal to 100%. Now here is the problem with the Japanese system, it only has grades of A, B, C because everyone passes no matter what. This annoys me because a kid that does nothing and ends up with a 0% in a class would get the same grade as a kid that tried but just didn’t “get” it. That seems inherently unfair to me.

A lot of kids, particularly in my horrible second grade class, did no work for me. Nor did they participate in class, or even shut up when I was talking. So they got C’s. I turned my grades in and the teachers were upset so they asked me to add a “participation” grade as well. I tried to explain that it was built in, but they still wanted me to do it. So I did. Most of the grades went up because it seemed they wanted class points and participation points to be equals (a none weighted average) the problem is that participation points dominated because they were already a part of the work points.

I understand that giving C’s is a big deal because there are only three letter grades to give out (they also do not use + or –‘s) so to a potential high school that C could be trouble. I am not happy that the kid that LITERALLY never came to my class (I mean that, not a single time) got a C, and a kid that had good attendance, never did a bit of homework, but tried in class, also got a C. I understand that that isn’t fair. But I also don’t think it is fair that a kid who tried in class, did all their homework (though clearly did not understand), has to share a B with a kid that didn’t try at all on their homework. There just are not enough bins to properly describe the situation. It seems to me that the Japanese system is built to protect the lazy kids and always screws the smart hard working ones. Perhaps the US system is just as bad, but I was never behind the scenes so I didn’t see it, but it doesn’t feel that way in retrospect.

I feel like I am guilty of grade inflation, particularly with my second graders. My first graders were great kids that all tired in class, my second graders were monsters (I still love them mind you), but “love” should not be factored into grades!

I have to sit down and come up with a mathematical model that can provide me with a better system for next term.
Mood Data: annoyed70% annoyed 30% dirty +/- 15%
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