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View Full Version : Student takes university to court over grade.



George Foster
02-08-2007, 12:59 AM
http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyid=2007-02-08T003142Z_01_N07250213_RTRUKOC_0_US-STUDENT-LAWSUIT.xml&src=rss&rpc=22

After reading this, I sort of side with the student. I mean he had a 91 average. I would like to read the syllabus(sp?) If you are giving grades based on a number score, how can the final grade be subjective? How can you "redo" the grading scale after the course is completed? I think he has a real beef.

I would like Falls City Beer's opinion on this since he teaches.

cincinnati chili
02-08-2007, 01:20 AM
I was once a teaching assistant at that very school.

We were very careful to put people on notice about the grading scales. I'm surprised that a TA was given the authority to redraw the curve. Seems like that should be the professor's call.

Yachtzee
02-08-2007, 01:36 AM
As a former teacher and a student I've never been a fan of the curve myself, and I've often been on the "smilin' side" of the curve. I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students. If everyone in the class works hard and does well, the grades should reflect that. Likewise if people blow off a class and have lower scores, the grades should reflect that as well.

RedFanAlways1966
02-08-2007, 08:32 AM
As a former teacher and a student I've never been a fan of the curve myself, and I've often been on the "smilin' side" of the curve. I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students. If everyone in the class works hard and does well, the grades should reflect that. Likewise if people blow off a class and have lower scores, the grades should reflect that as well.

:clap:

IslandRed
02-08-2007, 12:21 PM
Good post, Yachtzee. Now, I realize everyone has a different experience going through college, but I'm not sure I took a class where the classic curve was used ("There are 30 in this class, so three of you will receive As, six of you will receive Bs..."). What was called the "curve" was usually just a scaling adjustment for the degree of difficulty in certain classes.

westofyou
02-08-2007, 12:24 PM
We had pass/fail at my school.. good times.

paintmered
02-08-2007, 12:29 PM
He should have visited the ombuds office prior to visiting his lawyer.

registerthis
02-08-2007, 12:47 PM
As a former teacher and a student I've never been a fan of the curve myself, and I've often been on the "smilin' side" of the curve. I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students. If everyone in the class works hard and does well, the grades should reflect that. Likewise if people blow off a class and have lower scores, the grades should reflect that as well.

I understand the point you are making, Yachtzee, but a "straight grade", as it were, can become problematic if the course is taught by a particularly poor instructor. I remember I had an advanced economics class "taught" by a Chinese professor who was, perhaps, the worst professor I've ever had. I wasn't an econ major, but I knew my way around basic micro and macro theory. And from day one the man might as well have been teaching Sanskrit while talking in Mandarin. Not only was he extremely difficult to understand, but his teaching style was not at all geared towards a classroom setting, particularly of students who were not econ majors. He consistently used theories that he expressly stated were beyond the scope of the class bu that we might find "helpful." This, in actuality, only served to confuse us.

The first few weeks, I made arrangements to meet directly with the TA--himself a foreign-born individual who had a less-than-wonderful grasp of the English language--to attempt to get caught up on the material I was missing. However, the TA proved unhelpful when even he admitted to being unable to adequately follow along with the professor's lectures. At this point, I filed a complaint with the necessary department, and copied the dean of the college. I received only a form response that my complaint had been received, and that the school would follow up if they felt it was warranted.

Ultimately, nothing became of the investigation. At the end of the term, the class average in the course was a 37%. Now, perhaps I could have pressed the issue further, or sought other avenues for tutoring in this class--but the fact of the matter is that my class schedule was already overburdened, and I simply didn't have the time to devote to re-learning the material from another source, particularly for a class that was not in my major and was only fulfilling a general ed requirement.

In cases like this, I think a curve has legitimate value, because it compensates for a sub-par teaching and learning experience provided by the University. Admittedly, there were times when I benefitted from a curve in a class where it likely wasn't necessary. So there are times when I would agree with you. But I also had experiences whereby grading on a curve was, in my opinion, a necessary adjustment. So I can see both sides.

rdiersin
02-08-2007, 12:53 PM
How can an average, or close to average, grade be a 91%? Sounds like someone needs make tougher tests.

Yachtzee
02-08-2007, 03:36 PM
I understand the point you are making, Yachtzee, but a "straight grade", as it were, can become problematic if the course is taught by a particularly poor instructor. I remember I had an advanced economics class "taught" by a Chinese professor who was, perhaps, the worst professor I've ever had. I wasn't an econ major, but I knew my way around basic micro and macro theory. And from day one the man might as well have been teaching Sanskrit while talking in Mandarin. Not only was he extremely difficult to understand, but his teaching style was not at all geared towards a classroom setting, particularly of students who were not econ majors. He consistently used theories that he expressly stated were beyond the scope of the class bu that we might find "helpful." This, in actuality, only served to confuse us.

The first few weeks, I made arrangements to meet directly with the TA--himself a foreign-born individual who had a less-than-wonderful grasp of the English language--to attempt to get caught up on the material I was missing. However, the TA proved unhelpful when even he admitted to being unable to adequately follow along with the professor's lectures. At this point, I filed a complaint with the necessary department, and copied the dean of the college. I received only a form response that my complaint had been received, and that the school would follow up if they felt it was warranted.

Ultimately, nothing became of the investigation. At the end of the term, the class average in the course was a 37%. Now, perhaps I could have pressed the issue further, or sought other avenues for tutoring in this class--but the fact of the matter is that my class schedule was already overburdened, and I simply didn't have the time to devote to re-learning the material from another source, particularly for a class that was not in my major and was only fulfilling a general ed requirement.

In cases like this, I think a curve has legitimate value, because it compensates for a sub-par teaching and learning experience provided by the University. Admittedly, there were times when I benefitted from a curve in a class where it likely wasn't necessary. So there are times when I would agree with you. But I also had experiences whereby grading on a curve was, in my opinion, a necessary adjustment. So I can see both sides.

While I agree with you to a certain degree, I think the use of a curve to rectify issues caused by sub-par instruction should be the exception rather than the rule. I think that too often the curve is used to hide inadequacies in the education system. If a teacher hands out grades in a bell-curve distribution, you can't tell that there was anything wrong with the class based on student performance. With straight grading, if too many people are getting an A, you might question whether the current lesson plan doesn't sufficiently challenge the students. If there are too many low grades, you might argue that the material is too hard or that the teacher did a poor job. In either case, the fact that the grade distribution looks odd gives the administration reason to investigate further.

I say that, rather than taking the lazy route and curving everyone to get that bell-shaped distribution, teachers, administrators, and schools should work to improve the lesson plans to come to that distribution naturally. If students aren't allowed to cheat, why should schools be allowed to do so?

registerthis
02-08-2007, 04:19 PM
While I agree with you to a certain degree, I think the use of a curve to rectify issues caused by sub-par instruction should be the exception rather than the rule. I think that too often the curve is used to hide inadequacies in the education system. If a teacher hands out grades in a bell-curve distribution, you can't tell that there was anything wrong with the class based on student performance. With straight grading, if too many people are getting an A, you might question whether the current lesson plan doesn't sufficiently challenge the students. If there are too many low grades, you might argue that the material is too hard or that the teacher did a poor job. In either case, the fact that the grade distribution looks odd gives the administration reason to investigate further.

I say that, rather than taking the lazy route and curving everyone to get that bell-shaped distribution, teachers, administrators, and schools should work to improve the lesson plans to come to that distribution naturally. If students aren't allowed to cheat, why should schools be allowed to do so?

I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't agree with penalizing students with a bad grade if the bad grade is truly not of their own making. It shouldn't be an odd grade distribution that causes alarm, it should be the size of the curve that does. The same effect is produced, but the students do not pay with a bad grade on their transcripts due to the unfortunate circumstance of taking a course with a professor with poor teaching methods.

I completely agree that curves should not be used to hide inadequacies in the education system. In my own example, you would have thought that a course whereby a group of seemingly intelligent students somehow managed to pull a 37% in a mid-level economics course would have set off red flags throughout the department. However, a friend of mine had the same professor for the class the following year, with no apparent change in curriculum or teaching style. I personally found it deplorable.

Yachtzee
02-08-2007, 04:26 PM
I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't agree with penalizing students with a bad grade if the bad grade is truly not of their own making. It shouldn't be an odd grade distribution that causes alarm, it should be the size of the curve that does. The same effect is produced, but the students do not pay with a bad grade on their transcripts due to the unfortunate circumstance of taking a course with a professor with poor teaching methods.

I completely agree that curves should not be used to hide inadequacies in the education system. In my own example, you would have thought that a course whereby a group of seemingly intelligent students somehow managed to pull a 37% in a mid-level economics course would have set off red flags throughout the department. However, a friend of mine had the same professor for the class the following year, with no apparent change in curriculum or teaching style. I personally found it deplorable.

That's why I think that, in situations where there is a poor grade distribution, the University Ombudsman or someone similar should be called in to investigate to determine what caused the poor grades. If it looks like there was a problem with the lesson plan or quality of instruction, implement a curve to rectify it for that class so that they aren't penalized for having the bad luck of taking the class at the wrong time. While the investigation is going on, give the students in that class an "In Progress" to avoid causing transcript problems should someone be in the process of transferring or applying for a job with a grade requirement. Curves should be used sparingly, as an exception to rectify inequities within a single class for reasons beyond the control of the students.

reds1869
02-08-2007, 06:56 PM
I'm a teacher who feels grades are highly overrated. In the end they are nothing more than one person's opinion; they really don't mean what people take them to mean. An A from me might be a C from someone else. It all depends on the criteria the professor finds important. That said, I think this student has a legitimate beef with UMass.

Dom Heffner
02-08-2007, 07:14 PM
I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students.

There are some classes in which you can do this and some you can't.

I had a politcal theory class that was very difficult. The teacher presented four or five philosophers and you had to make them speak to each other in an essay test. You had no idea what the questions would be.

Something like, "How would Rousseau respond to Bush's war on terror?" "What would Machiavelli do?" What would Foucault say to Machiavelli?

Well, I'm not sure how you grade that on a point scale. While your answer certainly could be wrong or right, it had to make sense no doubt, but it's bit hard to deduct points or give credit for something like that.

What our professor did was read all the papers and get an idea where they were from best to worst and lay the grades out that way. I had no problem with that. While one could make the case that you could be giving worse grades to great papers, I would say the chances of that happening are slim. If you take a group of 50 students, they are usually going to peform the same way. You'll have two or three that will knock it out of the park, you'll have some above average, and then you'll have the average ones with some stragglers on the down side of things. There is no way that 40 people will be writing A material. If they are, the class probably isn't challenging enough.

I've always been told that if a professor turned in grades to the department and everybody got A's, his class was too easy and would have to be made harder.

My experience with college, though, was that most classes were as tough as they needed to be. Not many had curves.

Only the ones that were out of sight hard had good curves. That allows the teacher to not compromise the material just because most people don't understand it.

How do you dumb down Astronomy? You either get it or you don't.

Caveat Emperor
02-08-2007, 10:58 PM
I think once you get out of high school, grades are pretty meaningless.

You either earn the degree you're attempting to get, or you don't. What's the point of stratifying things out beyond that (aside from some compulsion to know how you compare to other people doing the same thing)?

But, then again, I also think that once you start paying for schooling you should have the choice as to whether or not a grade appears on your transcript. The way things are currently set up it's like McDonalds force-feeding you the hamburger you just bought even if you're not hungry.

paintmered
02-08-2007, 11:20 PM
I think once you get out of high school, grades are pretty meaningless.

You either earn the degree you're attempting to get, or you don't. What's the point of stratifying things out beyond that (aside from some compulsion to know how you compare to other people doing the same thing)?

But, then again, I also think that once you start paying for schooling you should have the choice as to whether or not a grade appears on your transcript. The way things are currently set up it's like McDonalds force-feeding you the hamburger you just bought even if you're not hungry.

There's a big difference between passing a class with an A and passing a class with a D-.

At least in my field of study, potential employers look at individual course grades. It gives an interviewer the opportunity to ask, "So how do you explain this C- in diff eq?".

OSUmed2010
02-08-2007, 11:48 PM
I think once you get out of high school, grades are pretty meaningless.

You either earn the degree you're attempting to get, or you don't. What's the point of stratifying things out beyond that (aside from some compulsion to know how you compare to other people doing the same thing)?

But, then again, I also think that once you start paying for schooling you should have the choice as to whether or not a grade appears on your transcript. The way things are currently set up it's like McDonalds force-feeding you the hamburger you just bought even if you're not hungry.

Also, if you're planning on going to graduate school, you're future very much depends on the grades you are getting.

wolfboy
02-08-2007, 11:58 PM
As a former teacher and a student I've never been a fan of the curve myself, and I've often been on the "smilin' side" of the curve. I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students. If everyone in the class works hard and does well, the grades should reflect that. Likewise if people blow off a class and have lower scores, the grades should reflect that as well.

That's a very nice post. I couldn't agree more.

cincinnati chili
02-09-2007, 12:24 AM
Also, if you're planning on going to graduate school, you're future very much depends on the grades you are getting.

Very true. I didn't care much about grades in college. But that affected my choice in law schools several years later. And the law school I'm attending will/has likely affect(ed) my job offers.

As for grading curves, I have no problem with them if they're enforced consistently by all professors.

My law school has a B- curve (half the people in every class must be given a B- or worse). However, there are a few old-timer-fully-tenured professors who ignore it, and muck up the class rankings. That's not fair, considering how much attention legal employers pay to class rank.

Caveat Emperor
02-09-2007, 12:43 AM
There's a big difference between passing a class with an A and passing a class with a D-.

At least in my field of study, potential employers look at individual course grades. It gives an interviewer the opportunity to ask, "So how do you explain this C- in diff eq?".

My argument would be that a passing grade is a passing grade -- it signifies (or should) that you achieved satisfactory mastery of the material sufficient for the University to confer a degree upon you. If the difference between a D- student and an A student is so great as to raise eyebrows, that indicates to me that the D- student probably shouldn't be passing.

As for grades as related to employment -- everything I've heard/read/seen indicates that, in most fields, they stop being important after a work history is developed. If grades were truly relevant predictors of success or failure in an industry, they'd continue to be large factors in jobs 5-10+ years out of school. From what I understand (and what I know of my own personal field) that is rarely the case.

Again, all just my own opinion.


Also, if you're planning on going to graduate school, you're future very much depends on the grades you are getting.

All the more reason I should retain some control over whether or not graduate school see my grades. If I paid $1,000 for a 3 credit course, didn't like the professor or the material and barely scraped a C in it, why should I be forced to report it on my transcript? I paid for the course, I didn't like what I got for my money, why should I be forced to suffer the outcome?

wolfboy
02-09-2007, 12:53 AM
Very true. I didn't care much about grades in college. But that affected my choice in law schools several years later. And the law school I'm attending will/has likely affect(ed) my job offers.

As for grading curves, I have no problem with them if they're enforced consistently by all professors.

My law school has a B- curve (half the people in every class must be given a B- or worse). However, there are a few old-timer-fully-tenured professors who ignore it, and muck up the class rankings. That's not fair, considering how much attention legal employers pay to class rank.

My law school runs on a similar system, but it's based lower than a B-. We lose a fair amount from 1L to 2L. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I've done well, and I've felt resented for it at times. I don't care for the (often ugly) competition between students.
In undergrad, my g.p.a. was very good. Unfortunately, my LSAT wasn't as sparkling, and that limited my options (that's my assumption anyway). I'm not so great in the standardized test department. It always pisses me off to think that one test may have had such implications on my options for the future.

Caveat Emperor
02-09-2007, 01:13 AM
My law school runs on a similar system, but it's based lower than a B-. We lose a fair amount from 1L to 2L. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I've done well, and I've felt resented for it at times. I don't care for the (often ugly) competition between students.

Toledo Law ran on a C curve for all 1L and required 2L (Evidence, Con Law II, and Ethics) courses. I never really had a problem with the curve except for my Property I course, where the professor gave an exam that was far too easy. The difference in raw score between an "A" and a "C+" ended up being the equivalent of something like 3 multiple choice questions simply because the scores were so closely bunched together.

The main issue I had with the law school curve (when it didn't benefit me, naturally) is that I wasn't being graded on how much I knew but, rather, how much I knew relative to everyone else. I could do well on a test, but not get an "A" because there were a couple people who knew more than I did. They might deserve "A" grades, but the fact that they studied just as hard as I did should have no bearing on my mark.

But it was a fact of life in law school...no sense getting mad at it.


It always pisses me off to think that one test may have had such implications on my options for the future.

The entire American education system seems to be shifting towards a focus on so-called "high stakes testing" at all levels. Right now, the testing prior to college is all for purposes of allocating funding dollars at the state level. Most schools now teach curriculums that are entirely focused on preparing students to take and pass whatever state-mandated standardized test is required for their level.

Eventually, I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing more testing at earlier ages to identify and seperate the college-track students from the rest of the kids. It is how education is handled just about everywhere else in the first world.

LoganBuck
02-09-2007, 02:01 AM
I would be mad if I were him.

I once recieved the benefit of the curve. I took an advanced Econ class at OSU, the professor was Chinese he spoke in broken english and he did not use a text book for reference. I struggled all quarter, my roomates were also taking the class and we studied hard. All quarter we scraped by, but the final was an absolute disaster. The prof put stuff on the test that he didn't cover, and what was on there he had marginalized. I saw another student who I had class with over the years look over the test, stand up, walk to the front of the classroom, and pronounce, "Thanks for nothing, you worthless piece of trash of an educator!" He stormed off to the deans office. I finished the test and went to my favorite watering hole. I spent the next few days fretting grades being posted. I got my test results first 19%!, near I could tell my overall performace had earned me a 42% and undoubtably an F. The Final Grades came in the I got a C. I later learned that the student that stormed off, had gotten in the dean's ear and the university interveined on behalf of all the students.

Another class I took had the professor who was Harvard educated, (he wouldn't let you forget it either) the class was Honors Greek Civilization. He took off for three weeks during the quarter to go to Greece on an archeological dig. He came back and was rather terse, he made the class watch a video tape, and look at a slide show, and then he had an exam. There were 15 honors students in the class. He decided to grade on the bell curve I had earned a high B, and recieved a B, which I was fine with. I found out however that several other students who had been very upset with him about his leaving while we were paying for him to instruct us, received Ds, supposedly no one failed. They took the issue to the dean and their grades were corrected.

The system can have holes, and it does have flexibility.

SandyD
02-09-2007, 09:11 AM
Eventually, I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing more testing at earlier ages to identify and seperate the college-track students from the rest of the kids. It is how education is handled just about everywhere else in the first world.


I'd like to see a middle school level testing/guidance system implemented. Something like this:

6th grade:

two standardized tests given: aptitude and skill
A guidance counselor would sit with the student and parent to discuss the results. Guidance. Want to go to college? You need to improve here and here. Don't want to go to college? We have the following vocational tracks available later on. Look over them, and see if any appeal to you. Don't know? Think you might? Work hard in these areas. Etc.

Instruction for the child would not change at this point, except maybe some borderline students could get some extra help in problem areas if they want.

7th grade:

Same type testing given.
Same type meeting.


8th grade:
Same thing, only now decisions have to be made such has what track the child takes in High School.

I'd also work with local business to provide vocational/business training/opportunities to those non-college-bound students. Including entrepreneurship training and help understanding business financing.

Now, I'd still give academic training to vocational HS level students. Just with a different focus. Some people don't want to/aren't ready for college right after HS, and decide to go later.

15fan
02-09-2007, 09:47 AM
I find it fascinating that the student who is so worked up is a 50 year old undergrad.

Danny Serafini
02-09-2007, 10:42 AM
I think once you get out of high school, grades are pretty meaningless.

You either earn the degree you're attempting to get, or you don't.

Agree with this totally. I work for a recruiting company, and have worked with employers in a number of different industries. A high majority of these job orders require a candidate with a college degree. I'd say in the time I've been here less than 1% have required that the person carry a certain GPA in college. It's only happened a couple of times. All that matters is that you have the degree, not how you got it.