Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Students Boycott Final Exam, Prof's Grade Curve Forces Him to Give 100% A's

CurveInside Higher Ed:  Dangerous Curves:

Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Fröhlich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, "that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Fröhlich....

As the semester ended in December, students in Fröhlich’s "Intermediate Programming", "Computer Science Fundamentals," and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.

Fröhlich took a surprisingly philosophical view of his students' machinations, crediting their collaborative spirit. "The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done," he said via e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn't expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.” Although Fröhlich conceded that he did not include such a “loophole” in the policy “with the goal of students exploiting it,” he decided to honor it after the boycott.

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A great experiment for their collaborative spirit would have been to award half with 100s and the other half with zeroes, and let the students decided who gets which.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 15, 2013 1:28:24 PM

I love Professor Fröhlich's response. When my kids make a good case, with no tantrums, for something I disagree with, I often give in. You want to encourage that behavior long term, even at the cost of letting 'em watch TV on a school night. I'm sure he'll close the loop hole next year.

Posted by: Yo Gabba Gabba | Feb 14, 2013 9:33:08 PM

I would have been tempted to split the difference and assign all of them the grade of fifty.

Posted by: Woody | Feb 13, 2013 10:41:19 PM