Sunday, February 17, 2013

When No Answer Is Worth An "A"

"Inside Higher Ed" has this fascinating story, of students coming together to beat a grading system:

Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Fröhlich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, "that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Fröhlich.
This approach, Fröhlich said, is the "most predictable and consistent way" of comparing students' work to their peers', and it worked well
The student's however found a loophole to the system:

As the semester ended in December, students in Fröhlich’s "Intermediate Programming", "Computer System Fundamentals," and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.
“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up.... Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though 
Top grades to the Professor, who stuck to his system:

Fröhlich took a surprisingly philosophical view of his students' machinations, crediting their collaborative spirit. "The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done," he said via e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn't expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.”

This story reminded me of one of my beloved urban myths of university life. According to legend, once long ago two students got drunk the night before an important final exam, and subsequently, overslept and missed the exam. Arriving a few hours late, they went to the professor's office and explained that they had been on their way to the exam when their car had a flat tire. The professor was very sympathetic and offered them to tale the exam right there and then. Weirdly however the professor insisted that they sit the exam in two separate rooms. When the students opened the exam they found but a single question worth 100% of the grade: Which tire?

Via: Volokh Conspiracy

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