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No Passing Zone

August 15, 2012

Have you established a “No Passing Zone” culture in your class?

As the start of a new academic year begins, I find myself remeniscing grading schemes of the past.  Not necessarily just those I’ve implemented, but the ones I’ve had to contend with as an undergrad and a graduate student.

If I’m to generalize the most damaging of grading schemes I experienced as a student, it would be those that created a sense of helplessness due to exceptionally acceptable low exam performances coupled with high curves.  Everyone knew their performance was going to be horrible and there was almost a collective bargaining among students about minimizing the time to invest in preparing for the tests.  It turned into a failure avoidance type of mechanism.

The logic of the scheme goes like this: if the class average is 50% or less on exams, that’s ok.  As long as there is a semi-reasonable grade distribution (very loosely defined, by the way), it demonstrates to students they still have a lot to learn and that they must work harder for a deeper understanding of the material.

Could there be more of a mismatch between motive and outcome?

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