Thursday, December 20, 2007


Profgrrrl has a thread about how people compute their grades. I commented there, but thought I would elaborate here.

Like her, I use a spreadsheet ... but I use Quattro Pro to do the grade computation rather than M$ XL. I also use an old fashioned grade book, which stays in my briefcase. The grade book is only for transient records (I don't carry a computer around with me), answering student questions, flagging something that will need correction (whether late assignments or a grading error) and a bit of permanence should something crash.

There was a gap where I only did research, so I can't tie my transition from paper to a spreadsheet to any specific change in the available tools. My history doing grades is quite a long one:

  • Undergrad TA: All grades were calculated by hand, since calculators did not exist at the time and slide rules can't do addition. Exams and quiz scores were added up by hand, as were final averages. Some habits carry over from those times. I still keep a grade book in that style, and I still transfer the sub-total for each page to the front of the exam for final computing. That was when I was teaching math, and lots of math faculty still do it this way.
  • Grad Student: I had a calculator, so most serious arithmetic was done that way. Exam scores were usually added up in my head, because I could do it faster than a calculator. Never bothered to write a grading program in Fortran because they already had one (or was it in COBOL?) for the really big lecture classes that did not have any homework grade.
  • Side comment: That was where I was taught how to grade exams really efficiently. It was only recently that I learned this had a name: rubric. But it is more than that, it is an assembly-line-like process. I may blog about it if asked. Once you can grade one problem on 750 exams, accurately and efficiently, you can grade anything.
  • Research Faculty: I taught some classes while on a full-time appointment that allowed that in addition to doing research. That was where I developed a grading spreadsheet in Quattro Pro that I still use today. It had three sheets (summary, homework, exams) just like mine does today.
  • CC Faculty: Nothing much changed, so nothing much changed. Once you have a PC, there is not much else to do but put it on your phone. But the security issues if that phone got lost? Priceless.
My comment on Profgrrrrl's blog about not having to remember how to do formulas comes from this experience. I have not built a totally new spreadsheet since the first one, maybe 15 years ago. I've only had to make minor adjustments as my grading formula changes.

So my grading process has two stages. I first enter grades into the grade book, even if I am home where the computer version lives. They go in the grade book with the same pen I have in my hand, and are easily entered in random order. (I alphabetize exams before handing them back, but not labs or homework, so that is an important detail. I can see an entire class in my grade book, but can't see the entire list on a computer screen.) I then copy them into the computer, now alphabetically, and cross check if it is important, like an exam.

At the end of the year, I "print" the final spreadsheet info to pdf and keep it on two different computers (home and work) and in two separate hard-copy files (one with the final exams at work, the other is the actual gradebook).

I can't imagine not using a spreadsheet. Besides the advantage of getting the numeric grades as soon as the final exam numbers go into the computer, it is also easy to generate midterm and other grades for the students. I don't use Bb for this because I use a different course management system and our college does not automate grade transfer from Bb to our on-line grade entry system. I'd have to transfer too much info from one place to another to make that work.

A big part of the grade comes from HW managed through a non-proprietary course management system. I print its gradebook for each block of HW when I give an exam, and use that for two things. One, it is a hard record of those grades that get transferred into my grade book and computer, and two, it is a way to keep records on possible correlations between specific exam questions and HW performance on related problems. Are they learning? I've learned that it matters more whether they tried the problem seriously than if they got it right. Kids who get it right by using their book, notes, or (more likely) advice from friends might not do as well as kids who got it wrong but figured out what they were doing wrong after they saw the answer. In fact, I have evidence that this is exactly what happens.

1 comment:

Schlupp said...

How does the grading assembly-line work?