Exam time: I’m not “giving” grades
“Where did you see the score??”
“She just posted them.”
“When? I just looked awhile ago.”
“No, like just posted.”
I listened as awareness and surreptitious online gradebook checking rippled throughout the room before class started.
Damn. Our first meeting in 10 days and the atmosphere felt dark and pensive. Not the way I wanted to begin the semester’s last hurrah.
Students might be surprised, but some teachers spend an inordinate amount of time planning how to share grade news. Like me when I realized over Thanksgiving break that some of the last exam scores were not stellar. I puzzled over whether to post the scores in the days before the holiday, knowing students are always invested in getting grade news as soon as possible. But I also realized that low scores without the ability to see the exam right away might be a recipe for a week’s worth of stewing and would cast a shadow over their celebrations.
So I waited, posting scores a few minutes before walking into class.
In hindsight, I should have kept on waiting. Not realizing how many students subscribed to gradebook mobile notifications, I faced a crowd of unhappy and anxious faces. The discussion and activity were subdued and I felt dagger glances in my direction all around.
As the students processed their feelings, out loud in many cases, I performed my own emotion management–slapping a serene smile on my face and pretending I couldn’t hear the accusatory way they said “she gave us this score” or “she took away points for that.”
My feelings? Vacillating between this:
But I also realize how different our perspectives are on grades. I want students to rock exams not necessarily for high scores, but to indicate mastery of concepts. I LOVE awarding great grades because it means students have demonstrated excellence. Of course I know that students have other concerns like GPAs, scholarships, sports, and grad school possibilities.
When exam scores are lower than expected, I conduct a rigorous evaluation… Are the questions fair? Are the questions representative of what was covered in class? Do scores jibe with other measures of assessment like papers and projects? Were students offered adequate support for learning? I sometimes even ask students to tell me (anonymously) in what ways and how well they prepared.
But I never pretend, at any point, that this grade business is easy. College is hard. My classes and standards are high. And I don’t think we say it enough, but learning is sometimes painful and frustrating. And so, as it turns out, is teaching.
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