Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ruby from Richmond Says: "No Grade-Grubbing in Math and Science? Blogga Please!"

The suggestion that RYS posters bitch and moan about snowflakes because we're all humanities profs--whereas the scientists never face such problems--is ridiculous. Oh, you've got an "objective" grading system, and all problems are either correct or incorrect? I've got two words for you: partial credit.

As long as the concept of partial credit exists, there will be just as much grade-grubbing and other bullshit in science and math as there is in the humanities and social sciences. "But this problem was worth 10 points, and you gave me 7.5--and I think I deserve at least 8.5!"

I've taught both English and Biology at the college level, and I saw just as much undergraduate tomfoolery in each. I've had English students turn in the most obviously plagiarized papers you could dream of (It says, "See Figure 2," and your paper has no figures?), and I've had Biology students beg--literally, saying "I'm BEGGING you"--over half a point.

Yes, 2 + 2 = 4, and it sure sounds like science and math profs have a watertight way of preventing grubbing and snowflaking. If you wrote "2 + 2 = 5," you're wrong; end of story. But that's not what happens. Students who don't know the answer will do a data dump, giving you every equation they know, hoping that something at least earns them partial credit. They'll write, "2 + 2 = addition, so I take 2 and add 1 to it twice, which means it's 2 + 1 and then I'm going to add another 1, and that will be the answer, and 2 + 1 is 3, so it's 3 + 1, and my calculator ran out of battery during the exam and the kid I texted to ask to borrow his calculator didn't hear his phone ring because he was listening to his iPod, so the answer is 3 + 1 which is the same as 1 + 3 because addition is commutative."

Objective, easy grading? My ass.