Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Calculations

The Maria Chronicles, #20

Denise: 77%
Olivia: 72%

Mia: 81%
Wilhelmina: 94%
Derek: 64%
Vanessa: 80%
Ali: 69%

Shit, Maria thinks to herself as she flips through the set of just-graded exams. I've got a problem on my hands.

Or, more accurately, a set of problems. The first is that some of these kids are surprisingly mediocre at absorbing the factual material she'd like them to master. This is not exactly a news flash when it comes to someone like Derek. It's more unexpected in the case of Olivia. She's been a bit of a cipher in class, but has struck Maria as someone who's largely on the ball. That may not be the case after all.

Then there's someone like Vanessa, which points toward problem #2. Eighty percent is not a terrible score, but she knows Vanessa well enough to think that she'll be upset when she gets the exam back. "I am so ready for this test," she told Maria this morning as Maria gave her a copy of the exam. Apparently not, Vanessa. Presumably there are other Vanessas in the class as well. This is likely to lead to disputatious discussions as well as silent resentment. Keenly aware of her probationary status in the eyes of the student body as New Teacher, Maria would just as soon not antagonize multiple students at this point. Not that she should be letting that bother her.

Actually, Maria is not especially concerned about a set of scores that average in the mid-seventies (which, strictly speaking is where the average should be: 75% is a C). In any case, she'd rather be perceived as a hard-ass than a pushover, especially at this point. Grade inflation being what it is, she's almost required to cede ground over the course of the year, if for no other reason than to foster a sense of psychic confidence that at least some of these kids are actually going to need by way of creating self-fulfilling academic prophecies. Realistically speaking, there are two tiers of grades that can end up on a report card that don't result in unpleasant consequences for student and/or teacher (usually in the form of parental protest): some form of A and some form of B. Maria usually has to go lower on that in a few cases a semester, but avoids it when she can. On assessments like exams and essays, however, she's generally comfortable handing out Cs and Ds, especially in the case of papers that she allows students to re-write.

But then there's problem #3, her biggest source of discomfort. And that is a feeling that it's Maria who really performed poorly here. Question #19, for example, asks students about the antifederalists, and Maria now sees that there may have been some ambiguity about whether the term referred to people who opposed the Constitution in the 1780s, as opposed to those who opposed the Federalist party in the 1790s. Sixteen of her twenty students got that one wrong. Seventeen students didn't know the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which Maria is sure she mentioned in class. Maybe that was the problem: she mentioned it in class. Sure, it was in the textbook. But as far as these kids are concerned, if it wasn't discussed in class, it didn't happen, and Maria has given them little reason to think otherwise.

Maria decides to void those two questions, which means she'll give three points apiece to all those kids who got it wrong, and three points to any who got either or both right. This will bring the average score up to somewhere around 80%, -- a B- in Maria's book -- and drag Derek over the line from an F to a D. Vanessa won't be thrilled, but hopefully less querelous; Olivia will remain mired in mediocrity. Ditto for Ali. Maria will have to keep a closer eye on those two, part of which will involve watching to see how proactive they are in grappling with this outcome.

Maria begins entering the scores in her gradebook in pencil, knowing that errors and challenges will inevitably lead to adjustments. She thinks of an old saying to the effect that it's best not to look too closely into the making of sausages and wars. Grading, she muses grimly, should be added to that list.