The thorny question of grading took a new twist yesterday afternoon. I’ve discussed grading before — in my posts of 11/30/2005 and 12/20/2007 — and I’m not going to rehash those arguments. Sometimes I’m wrong, but on these issues I’m still right. Here was the new twist:
Yesterday I was returning a test that had been given to six sections of Algebra II, taught by three different teachers. We had agreed on the questions, we had agreed on the number of points per question, and we had even agreed on a detailed rubric for grading (1 point for constructing the right matrix, 1 point for indicating a product, 1 point for calculating the product correctly, etc.). But we had not yet agreed on a scale, since there was no way we could feel confident about that until we had looked at some sample papers and had agreed on what constituted competent work. (As indicated earlier, we create a scale not by percentages and definitely not by a curve, but by examining student work and converting the lowest competent work into a low B and so forth.) Anyway, I explained to the class that Ms. P was out today and therefore I could give them only their raw scores. One student asked me what the scale was likely to be.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I can’t make that decision unilaterally. I know what I think it should be, but I have to consult with Ms. P and Ms. F first.”
“Can’t you give us some idea?” he pleaded.
“Well, all I can say is that if you got more than 90% right, you’re unlikely to benefit much from a scale. Where could your grade go anyway? But if you got, say, somewhere in the 70s, you might possibly end up with a B. People with lower raw scores are the ones who need the benefit of a scale, especially those who ran out of time but otherwise did good work.”
“You must be a Democrat,” was his astonishing reply.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because Republicans believe in treating everyone equally.”
At that point I told the student that I didn’t want to go there and was not going to continue the conversation. I suppose some of my Weston students might really buy the idea that Republicans believe in treating everyone equally, but tell it to my Dorchester students and neighbors. In the famous words of Anatole France, “The law in its infinite majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.”