Glasgow and Me, Interlude

I finished a batch of papers today — a very small batch, compared to many of my colleagues around the world (I’m especially attuned to this, since Margaret probably grades more weekly quizzes and exams than I mark in a semester) — but learning the standards in each new institution involves a complicated exercise in imagination, listening, estimating, truth-telling, and (often) allowing mercy to triumph over judgement.
My task this time was facilitated and complicated by the impressive array of grading tools that the Department provides for its students. “Facilitated,” of course, because the more data concerning what makes an “A” an “A” (or “First Class Honors,” or “20 on a 0 – 22 scale”), the more effectively one can communicate with students, colleagues, and other interested parties. “Complicated,” because the Department provides at least three distinct sets of explanations of our (three different, but coordinated) scales of evaluation.
So a great part of the process involved trying to compare the different sets of evaluative explanations with one another, so that I could compare the actual essays to the characterizations my students get. I wound up making a big matrix of rows of categories of evaluation (given in one of the sets of description) crossed with columns for Excellent (A, First Class Honors), Very Good (B, Upper Second Class), Good (C, Lower Second Class), Adequate (D, Third Class), and Weak/Poor/None. I put descriptive phrases, greyed slightly, in each of the first four columns and left the last column blank for my own explanation of what was so lacking.
I still had to assign marks on a 1 – 22 scale to each paper, but between my on-paper comments and the tick marks in the matrix, students ought to have at least a foggy sense of how they could do better. The whole thing reconciles, generally, with the three fuller descriptions that the Department provides, and I have the comfort that my marks bear a more-or-less direct relation to what I (and we) indicate in our guidance material. And I won’t have to do that again next time, thank heaven.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I think one of the big differences I have noticed in going in the opposite direction, from the UK to the US, is in the British idea of a “first class honours”. Traditionally, the first is only given to a tiny percentage and it is for truly outstanding work. I think this differs a bit from the American A / A- which is what a bright person who works hard expects to get.

  2. I was tipped off to that difference before I started marking, I’m glad to say, or I’d have been at risk of being a one-man grade inflation force. I heard that another department reckons that a “normal” course will have about 10-15% First Class, the preponderance of the rest Upper Second, and the rest Lower Second and, more rarely, Third or below.

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