At long last, the semester has come to an end. All my finals are graded and my grades have been entered into the system. It all will start again soon enough, but for now I am done.
One thing that strikes me about finals is that students will sometimes take the final, see their grade (I bring a laptop with my grading program to the finals) and then make a plea for a better grade or a chance to improve their grade. In my classes with papers, I will always have a student or three who show up to the final and then find out that they have earned an F for simply not doing the paper or perhaps a D for never bothering to revise a very bad draft from the start of the semester. In other cases, students see that they have a D or F because they did not do enough quizzes (I give 16+ and only count 10) or assignments (only 10 out of 26 count). In some cases, the student has done enough work, but has consistently done it at the D or F level.
Not surprisingly, the pleas are usually based on some dire consequence that the students will suffer if they do not receive a better grade. As one example, a student who is (or was) graduating will see that s/he did not do the paper and then ask if they can write one then. As another example, a student who needs to keep a certain GPA to keep a scholarship might see that s/he did not take enough quizzes or do enough assignments and want the chance to make them up after the final. As a final example, a student who just wants to pass might see that his/her grades are bad and ask for extra credit or boldly ask for points for nothing.
I have no doubt that some of these students sincerely believe that their needs and desires give me a reason to provide them with a better grade or the opportunity to improve a grade even though the request is made after the final.
While I am generally sympathetic, I generally point out what should be obvious.
First, if it was critical that the student pass the class, then s/he should have taken the steps needed to make that happen. For example, when a student fails because s/he did not do the paper and wants a chance to write it after the final, I will point out that s/he had several weeks to write and repeatedly revise the paper. In fact, the paper in my classes has a draft due date, a draft deadline, an actual deadline, a 50% credit deadline and even a form for requesting an extension (to handle legitimate problem situations). As such, there is no reason why a student could not take care of the paper prior to the final so that s/he could graduate.
In some cases, students accept this. In other cases, students seem to think that I am acting terribly unjustly. I suspect that they think something like this: “he doesn’t get it! I need to pass this class to graduate/keep my scholarship/keep my parents off my back so he needs to let me write that paper now!Why can’t he get it?”
However, I am not acting unjustly or unfairly. After all, the student had the same chance as everyone else-and plenty of chances at that.
The principle I follow does seem to extend beyond education. For example, consider helping others. I am, of course, willing to help people who are in trouble through no fault of their own (such as a natural disaster or accident). However, if someone brought his/her misfortune on him/herself and could have avoided this fate by reasonable efforts, then I am not inclined to help. It might be nice of me to do so, but I am under no obligation to help those who need my help because they failed in their obligations themselves.
Second, the student’s needs and desires have no relevance to the calculation of the grade. The grade is, on my view, a rating of how well the student knows the material and how proficient the student is in the relevant skills. As such, what matters is performance in the class. To use an analogy, suppose that I really want to win the Boston Marathon (which I do). Imagine that I actually need to win it-my running addiction has cost me my job so I need the money to pay my bills. Suppose that I run it in 2:45 (my best marathon time), but I do not come close to winning. If I went to the race director and said that I really needed to win and really wanted to win and thus I am entitled to first place, I would obviously not be granted that absurd request. If I asked for a chance to run the race again after it was done, I would also obviously not be given another chance: that year’s race is over. Train more and come back next year.