Testing out some verbiage on quarter grades
Earlier this week I wrote about my dissatisfaction with having to give numeric quarter grades to students when I don’t feel they accurately reflect the ultimate grade students will earn in this class if they continue to focus on using feedback to improve their understanding.
It’s entirely possible given where we are that a student who is still struggling to figure out a free body diagram in my class at this moment (something we’ve been doing for a few weeks, but there are still enough subtleties that hold a few students back from complete mastery) could end up with a very low “grade” according to the grading scale we’ve established. In fact, mastering Free Body Diagrams is considered an essential skill, so a student who doesn’t demonstrate mastery of this ultimately cannot pass the class (and I think that would seem pretty fair if this were week 18 and we’d been doing this for months). But I also think it’s very premature to say that student is failing right now.
I’ve tried to put together an explanation of this to go along with grades in order to help students and parents understand how they are different from other grades they are used to seeing, which tend to be averages, and thus, earning an 85 at the mid term makes it all but impossible to wind up with an A. Whereas in my class, such shifts are entirely possible.
Here’s what I’ve put together so far, and I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions on how to make it more concise and helpful. I’m envisioning that this will go somewhere in the comment for the student.
Remember that your grade is not an average—rather it is a snapshot of your most recent understanding of the 8 concepts we’ve studied thus far. Because we are still very early in our study of physics, this snapshot probably is not as useful as the detailed feedback you’ve been getting in class, nor does it provide as good of a summary of your progress as you will find by checking the complete history of your understanding on Activegrade.com. Also, because of the limited number of concepts we have covered thus far, not mastering a concept has a much more significant impact on your overall grade than it will in at the end of the semester.
All of this is a long winded way of saying that you should not at all be deterred by a lower grade than you are used to seeing in this course. Because of the nature of our grading, often a small amount of work to master a few concepts will lead to dramatic improvements in your final grade, since only your very latest score counts, and you are not penalized for any previous mistakes you may have made.