Friday, May 25, 2012

An End-of-Semester Reflection on Grades and Grading

At the conclusion of each semester, after having corrected final projects, assigned grades and reviewed class members’ feedback, I often share a concluding reflection.  The following is an excerpt from a reflection that I emailed to students who studied system dynamics modeling with me and two colleagues this spring term, in a course offered by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. 
Dear Class Members,
A few class members expressed a concern that their grades were lower than expected and did not adequately reflect the amount of time they devoted to the course. I could write a lengthy discourse on grading (in fact I have published such a discourse), but the way I feel about the matter is summed up in a passage from one of my favourite books, Kitchen Table Wisdom, written by Oncologist, Dr. Naomi Remen. The passage is this:
As a child, when I brought home a ninety-eight on an exam, my father always asked, “What happened to the other two points.?”  My childhood became focused on the pursuit of those two points.  It took years to discover that those points don’t really matter.  That they don’t make you lovable.  Or whole.  That they are not the secret of living a life worth remembering.
Grading standards are rigorous at the Lee Kuan Yew School and the National University of Singapore.  They are intended both  to evaluate student performance and to provide validation to external reference groups that may be hiring students or assessing institutional reputations.   These are necessary funtions.  But when, in a course such as this, students have toiled for many hours, perhaps far more than in some other courses, I wish there were additional venues for  publicly acknowledging that effort and achievement.  It is in the nature of the modelling process that the outcome of assignments/projects, which provide the basis for grades, may not fully reflect the hours spent or, indeed, the amount learned.
My concluding take-away is this:  The course we shared was a demanding one.  Every one of you took it seriously and made it a high priority in very full schedules with competing priorities, both academic and personal.   I respect this and consider it a privilege to have worked with you. I can think of no class member who was not putting out a high level of  effort.   This will be one of those special classes, comprising an engaging, creative and intelligent  group of committed, dedicated members that I will not soon forget.
I am grateful for this opportunity to have shared system dynamics modeling with you and would welcome opportunities to be of help to you in the future. 
Respectfully and with my best wishes,

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