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Sunday, January 11, 2015

On Grading a Huge Stack of Papers in This Era of Educational Deformity

I collected five sets of document-based (DBQ) essay responses this week.  In NYC, this means about 175 papers, all requiring some outside information (in this case, research) plus the use of a number of documents.

I staggered the due dates for my classes for the sake of my own sanity.  Two sets of ninth graders handed in their papers on Tuesday.  Three sets of tenth graders handed in their papers on Friday.  Since I don't take kindly to lateness when an assignment has been announced several weeks in advance, I only accept papers one day late, and, then, at the cost of ten points.  In this way, I give myself a chance to make serious inroads on the first batch before the second batch arrives. 

This project is broken into parts.  My ninth graders handed in their short-answers (or scaffolding).  Then, we discussed the DBQ.  Students were advised to state their thesis in a separate intro., use more than half the documents, topic sentences, good organization, overwhelming "outside information" and a conclusion that doesn't fizzle.  The ninth graders handed in rough drafts.  My tenth-graders handed in outlines; a few volunteered drafts and, obligingly,  I added them to my enormous stack of papers.

There are strengths and weaknesses to the project.  Students need to balance evidence and do additional research to defend their thesis in an organized, well-written manner.  Students receive feedback before the final draft.  It will better ensure more polished finished products.  

So far, I have only found one instance of plagiarism.  Given they were forewarned, the penalty is the insufferable zero.  The student resorted to Britannica online.  In his favor, at least it's more credible than plagiarizing Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, many students lack the ability to distinguish the credibility of their sources as well recognize biases.  

I don't look forward to grading papers.  Who would?  A ninth-grade student asked if I would hand back the papers the next day.  I told him "no," but I often surprise even myself.  A tenth-grade student was shocked to learn the papers might come back the next week.  How could I do it so fast?  I smiled.  I wanted to ask him if he had heard of the labors of Hercules, but I restrained myself.  I will clean my house this weekend, as usual, and grade like a maniac.  It will be telling to see which task offers relief from the other!  

Although it seems like this paper should be an easy way for students to score high grades, sadly, it is not.  Since the project requires work outside the classroom, there will be a small part of my clientele which fails to do a single thing.  They would rather suffer the insufferable zero.  They will hope for a miracle.  My calculator does not perform miracles.  I have told them so.

Given the world of VAM or the educational gulag, I suppose it is ultimately my fault if students fail to turn over the work--in the same vein as I must take the hit for a student who fails to study and bombs his high-stakes test.  But I didn't work so hard to share the zeroes of other people.  So much for the idea of personal responsibility in this era of educational deformity!  So much for teachers!

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