Teachers, Grades, and Professions

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Grades have been on my mind a lot this week.  There are a lot of reasons.

First, yesterday was graduation and every year there are a couple of disappointed people who find out four days before graduation that they will not make it.  As department head, I'm kept apprised of these situations even on sabbatical in case I need to mediate.  Second, this week I had a grueling decision about grading of my own to make. Then, today, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education took me on a tour of memory lane.  Grades are rather like opinion letters, so I thought you might find this interesting.

I'll talk in this blog about the last minute non-graduate.  This was a very good year, actually.  No senior in my department who began the semester failed to graduate.  Last year, though there were two.  One was particularly difficult.  The student turned in a paper clearly unworthy of a passing grade.  Her parents are wonderful people, and have been strong supporters of Susquehanna in the past.  They thought their request was reasonable.  Could their daughter be allowed to walk across stage and receive a blank folder, then get the diploma in the fall when she took the course over?  They wanted to protect their daughter from embarrasment.  They argued that many schools give everyone a blank folder and then the diplomas come in the mail.  So what is the harm? 

Well, is is true that some schools do have that policy.  I've worked at schools with that policy.  But the situations are not comparable.  In my experience, the purpose is not to avoid embarrasment.  It is because the school does not have time to perform final audits before graduation--usualy because the number of graduates is very large. 

In our case, grades are due Wednesday, we perform audits and even the occasional grade appeal by Friday afternoon, and print the list of graduates on Saturday.  Granting their request would be misleading, and would be unfair to other students who failed a course during spring semester and had to suffeer the embarrasment.  Nor do I believe that protecting the student from the consequences of poor work is wise. 

Even if you're not a professor, this story has a moral for you.  If a professional fails to follow agreed upon standards it provides misinformation.  People who rely on that information may be mislead, to their detriment.  Not so unlike a traditional audit, is it?

This posting is long enough, so I end.  Look in later blogs for my own grading decision and the trip down Memory Lane.

Best wishes,



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