The last week has been pretty much full-time grading. I gave my exam in my US History class Thursday before last, got the exams back on Monday, and for the last ten days I have been working my way through the students’ papers. I am happy to report that people who came to class apparently learned something from me, though perhaps not all that I would have hoped.
At least, that is what I conclude from the distribution of grades for the 379 final exams that I have before me. There are 618 names on the class roster that was submitted to me along with the papers. So over 200 people who are registered for the class didn’t even try to take the exam. Everybody who got an exam paper had to sign the roster, so the 379 is an accurate count of those who at least thought they might have a chance. The distribution of grades is somewhat bimodal, that is, there is a cluster down at the bottom, around 5-6 out of 20, and then another cluster that peaks about 8.5. The highest grade is a 14, the lowest is 1.75.
The exam was pretty standard for the way I do things now in my classes in the US, except that I did not do a document-based question as I usually do – too much trouble and potential pitfalls in translating documents. So instead, I gave them a choice of one of three essay questions and a set of multiple-choice and short answer questions. Each part counted half of the exam, that is, ten points for the essay and ten points for the multiple choice.
As always, if I offer a choice, there is one essay question that will attract the majority of responses. In this case the question was:
“Imaginez que vous êtes un(e) Afro-Américain(e) âgé de 60 ans vivant dans la Louisiane en 1900. Décrivez les changements que vous avez vus dans votre vie. Que pensez-vous de la situation actuelle des noirs dans votre état ? Dans le pays tout entier ? Quels sont vos craintes et espoirs pour l’avenir ? ” or, in English, “Imagine you are a 60 year old African-American living in Louisiana in 1900. Describe the changes you have seen in your life. What do you think of the current situation for black people in your state? In the country as a whole? What are your hopes and fears for the future.”
For me, this question clearly asked the students to speak to the situation of African-Americans in 1900. This is especially true since I told them that the test would only cover the period up to 1939 since that was as far as we have gotten in lectures. However, at least three quarters of the responses to the question included comments on the current, 2016, situation of African-Americans in the US. I heard a lot about Barack Obama, some mentioned Ferguson or police violence more broadly, some talked about mass incarceration. Often, this content was more detailed and longer than the part discussing the 19th century. Some of the things they said applied to 1900 as well, like police violence, lynchings, etc., so I was able to give some credit for that part of those essays. At first, I was writing comments in the margin like “Obama was born in 1961, 61 years after the time you are supposed to be discussing”. But as the stack of essays to grade got shorter, I finally came to the realization that somehow I had messed up the question. I think it was the use of that word “actuelle” – instead of “la situation au début du 20eme siecle” or something of that nature.
Thinking quickly, I decided not to go back and re-score the exams. Instead, I am giving everybody a boost of two points to their score. This will move the upper group above 10.
Another consideration is something called the “session”. In October, the university takes a break for a week while students re-take exams they flunked the previous year if the class grade is below 6 or if their average score for their previous year’s classes was below 10. The second exam is generally no help, I should add, because the students have had the whole summer to forget the little they knew in the spring. Still, everybody wants to try because otherwise you flunk the whole year and have to repeat, even the classes you passed the first time. My boss at first wanted me to come back in October and give my “session” exam but I had to decline because Fulbright won’t pay for my travel and I will be back working two jobs in Oregon. So instead I am planning to give a second final exam for people who flunked the first time. The fewer who flunk, the fewer exams I will have to grade. In addition, people who are doing group presentations, again some three or four hundred, will almost certainly have their grades pulled up by the presentation, so people with 9s or even 8s on this exam won’t need to try again.
I’m wondering now how many of the 200-odd who didn’t bother to take the first exam will come out of the woodwork for the second one. June may be a long month.
And here’s the finished stack on the other side of my desk. Hurrah!