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Archive for April 20, 2006

Okay, NOW I hate Con Law

April 20, 2006 2 comments

We had to do this silly paper in Con Law earlier this semester, right when many of us had briefs due, and when many of us had other obligations to fulfill because of involvement with student organizations and the like. The paper was written in groups, and the groups were randomly assigned by our professor. And everyone worked pretty hard, though some people didn’t, and everyone figured the standard for grading would be pretty reasonable, since we were all told not to use any material except what had been covered in class. We were told that it should be like “a 24-take home exam, except you have two weeks to write it, and you get to write it in a group.”

We got comments back on our papers today. Note: not the papers themselves. Just substantive comments on the papers. And a grade, which is 35% of our final grade. And then we received a spreadsheet with the grade distribution for the class. Over half of the class got an A of some stripe, with fully 25% getting an A or an A+. And the rest didn’t. The difference between one letter grade and another was one (1) point.

What this basically means is that anyone who fell into the bottom 2/5 of the grade distribution can kiss an A goodbye. Not because those people might not be able to ace the exam, but because acing the exam probably won’t be sufficient to push them above some of those people in the top 2/5, who, after all, start out with “perfect” scores.

Our professor told us the paper was supposed to take some of the pressure off of us for the exam, which might have been the case if everyone got an A. But of course, just because 35% of our grade is already determined does not mean we don’t feel the pressure to do well on the exam. Those who got lower grades are now freaking out, trying to cram in enough information to do super-well on the exam and bump their grades up, while those at the top are freaking out, trying to cram in enough information to keep their A’s. Which, of course, the curve will not allow. Some not insignificant portion of the class will get a grade that is more than one letter grade lower than their paper grade, because the curve demands it. Frankly, that’s almost worse than starting out with a lower grade.

I don’t have a problem with mixed forms of assessment over a semester–I think it’s a good pedagogical method. But to work, the grades need to be handed in well before three days prior to the exam and students need to be able to be accountable for their own work–either by being in self-selected groups or by writing individual papers.

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Categories: 1L