Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grading Time

I have to get in my final grades in the next day or so. Some thoughts and questions.

1) What's the average grade you give? (Anonymous answers are fine.) Without getting too specific, my average for my undergraduate class is usually somewhere between a B and a B+ depending on the year. (I would happily give straight A's in my undergraduate class if I felt it was merited. Hasn't happened yet.)
2) My course seems to have recently become a "proving ground" for freshmen who consider themselves good at math/CS. I had more freshmen than ever this year... and on the whole, they did MUCH better than average. (I had about 10-15% of the class as freshmen this year -- and they got about 1/2 the A grades...)

I'd like to encourage this. I'm thrilled to get bright freshmen into algorithms and data structures early (and I hope to get them in my grad classes or to do a thesis later). I have to remind myself to send these students a note and see if they want to be teaching assistants next year. It's great when you get a TA who can do the course multiple years...
3) My grades for my graduate class will be much higher than for my undergraduate class on average -- even for the undergraduates who take the class. This isn't really surprising. The graduate class is very self-selecting. (One interpretation is that only the very top undergrads from my undergrad class choose to take the graduate class, so of course they do well; the other is that the undergrads who like me as a teacher choose to take the class, and I'm just therefore easier on my grad class. What's the Jaccard coefficient of these two sets of students...?) And grad classes generally seem to have a higher curve, since most institutions (Harvard included) require grad students to maintain something like a B average, so anything less than a B is like a failing grade. Is there a huge difference between grades for your grad classes and undergrad classes at your institution? Even if you get undergraduates in the grad classes?


Andrew Eckford said...

As a graduate student, I found course grades tiresome (although mine were high). Any graduate student has already demonstrated an ability to process class material and feed it back to the professor in controlled portions -- in the form of high undergraduate grades. And, as you say, the "B" average requirement imposes grade inflation, making the grades less meaningful (actually where I'm at, anything less than an A-minus makes external scholarships hard to get, so I find that to be the real floor). Further, we're really judging graduate students on their thesis, not on whether they got an A or a B in some long-forgotten graduate course. So now that I'm on the other side, I would much rather not give out grades in grad classes, other than maybe pass/fail.

JeffE said...

What's the average grade you give?Low B- for undergrad courses, low A- for core grad courses, high A- for grad special-topics classes.

My course seems to have recently become a "proving ground" for freshmen who consider themselves good at math/CS.It's very rare for freshmen to take my algorithms class, but I've had several semesters where the best student was a sophomore.

Is there a huge difference between grades for your grad classes and undergrad classes at your institution?Absolutely. If I applied the same standards to both grads and undergrads, either every grad would get a high A, or half the undergrads would get a low D or worse; in either case, the grade would not be a good signal of the student's ability. So the standards in my grad classes are significantly higher -- as they should be! And every grad class I've ever taught has included a few undergrads, usually near the top of the class (graded on the same curve as the grads).

Also, I never give grades between B- and F in my grad classes.

Unknown said...

My answers are exactly the same as Jeffe's except that the ocassional student in a grad class gets a very low grade.

Usually the top student or two in my grad course is a fourth year undergrad who reached ahead and took Algorithms II in third year and decided to take Advanced Data Structures (my grad class) in their fourth year.

Anonymous said...

my average for undergraduate theory class is a high B (or sometimes, the borderline between B and B+). Every standard deviation is around one grade up/down (so a third of a standard dev, roughly, to get from B+ to A-, another third to A, etc.

Is this grade inflation? My undergrad institution was at another country, so I'm not that used to letter grades; B sounds not-great to me, and C sounds terrible. Thus, giving an average around B/B+ doesn't sound too high to me. But I always wondered... should I go down?

Paul Beame said...

Grading schemes are very much institution dependent. Most US institutions give letter grades only which are then translated to grade points but we give specific grade point numbers down to the decimal. In many places a raw scale from 0 to 100 is used (or 0 to 10) and then translated to letter grades (and then to grade points). However, those translations vary a great deal and the typical averages are all over the map.

At the University of Toronto where I was a student A- was 80-84 (3.7), A was 85-9 (4.0) and A+ was 90-100 (4.3). The average for 1st and 2nd year classes is around 68 or C+ (2.3) and rises to around 72 or B- (2.7) in 4th year courses. This seems to be typical of Canadian universities.

Our intro courses have average GPAs in the high 2's (or B-/B) and the B-/B range seems more typical of US schools. In my junior/senior level undergraduate courses that are limited to our undergraduate majors, the averages are more in the central B+ range (low to mid 3's) which is simply reflective of the strength of the selected population in those courses.

One advantage of the fully decimal GP system we use is that it makes the grade assignment problem much easier. Small gaps in raw scores translate into small gaps in GP assigned. I don't have to struggle to decide whether a student should get a B+ (3.3) or an A- (3.7), I have 3.4, 3.5, or 3.6 available. With 3.9 available I can still make distinctions among the top students in the class that are lost with the absence of the distinguishable A/A+ (4.0). In fact, in assigning grades I don't end up thinking about the letter grade equivalences.

Anonymous said...

My department has the requirement that students must get a grade of at least a B in several courses, spread across some number of different areas.

I have had non-theory students get a C in my complexity theory class. They were of course advised to drop the course, but they were hoping to get the minimum B required.