Thursday, November 4, 2010

Student Assessment

My daughter, a graduate student, was recently relaying an experience with a student who was trying to get her to raise the mark on an essay she had evaluated. The story brought back memories of my teaching days, so I wrote the following for her, and thought I would share it on my blog, since many of the observations are equally applicable to the experience of high school teachers:

A Retired Educator's Guide to Essay-Markers Dealing with Importunate Students (i.e., those who try to wheedle marks they don't deserve)

The first thing to remember is that the importunate come in all shapes and sizes, from the most vocal to the quietest student. They share a common characteristic in that they all want elevated marks for a host of reasons, and, assuming that the marker has been diligent in the original assessment of their work, are almost uniformly undeserving of such consideration.

These are some of the wheedlers' most common strategies:

1. They may insist that this is the lowest mark they have ever received in any course, and reminisce fondly about their high school glory days, when they allege never having “received a mark below 85%. ”

2. Importunate students may try to enlist your sympathies by talking about how important a higher mark is to their future plans, be it grad school, medical school, or law school. This can be a remarkably successful ploy, given that the marker of the work in question is usually a grad student as well.

3. Should this stratagem not yield the desired effect, the more tenacious may begin to embark upon a form of psychological warfare, the goal being to undermine the assessor's self-confidence or self-esteem, as in the following scenarios:

a) The wheedler may suggest that you are being unnaturally obdurate in your refusal to raise the mark, thereby implying a dark defect of personality or character, an inability to relate to the goals and aspirations of a fellow human being.

b) The whiner may attempt to undermine your judgement and/or intellect by implying that you have failed to understand the remarkable insights he/she has offered in an essay that would be obvious to most people but is perhaps just 'beyond you.'

c) The even more aggressive student may take issue with specific comments you have made on his/her paper, although this approach is less frequently utilized since it would require him/her to actually have taken the time to read your comments rather than simply look at the mark.

How to Deal with Importunate Students:

First, a note of caution: one should always be prepared to listen to student objections, because even though it might be a rare occurrence, occasionally they may actually raise some valid issues. The more diligent the marker is, however, the less likely this is to happen. But one always wants to be certain not to fall into the trap of arrogance by making blanket statements such as “All marks are final.”

Probably the easiest and best way to deal with wheedlers is to tell them that they can always appeal the mark to the professor, but warn them that they will have to present specific academic reasons for their appeal; in other words, they have to offer specific arguments, based on their actual essay, for a mark reconsideration. Ergo, the common strategies of the wheedler listed in the first part of this document cannot be used. The fact that most of them will have no legitimate reason for the mark to be raised means that they are most unlikely to launch an appeal.

Should the professor wind up awarding the person a higher mark, do not allow the decision to undermine your self-confidence. Frequently such decisions are made for political or career reasons, or simply as a matter of expediency and have nothing to do with your judgement.

If you are determined to deal with the matter yourself, you can make a similar stipulation, but my feeling is that since the professor doesn't have to mark a classroom of papers, he/she should at least have to read the occasional one and deal with some of the messier aspects of academia.

Please feel free to distribute this document to whomever you think might benefit from it.

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