Something bothered me when designing our last syllabus. The final product looked something like this:

Course component Percent of total course points
Classwork 40%
Homework 20%
Final Project 30%
Attendance 10%

This table breaks down the apportioning of points by course component. But this doesn’t reflect the goal of my teaching. I am not concerned how my students do “on classwork”. I want to know if they understood the actual topics that I derived from my instructional analysis. Ideally, I would be apportioning percentages for content areas:

Content Area Percent of total course points
Looping 40%
Data Structures 20%
Social Impacts 30%
Syntax 10%

At some point over the semester, my students must convey to me that they sufficiently mastered the concept of how programs can loop over a list, and then they should receive some points. I want them focused on completing the topics, not “classwork”.

This thought was triggered again tonight when I saw a presentation complaining about how Mean grades can be misleading. They offered an example similar to the following:

Assignment # Grade
Assignment 1 95%
Assignment 2 95%
Assignment 3 95%
Assignment 4 70%
Assignment 5 95%
Final Average 88%

They argue that, clearly, assignment 4 was an outlier that should have been removed from the final grade calculation. This student consistently performed above a 90% with only a single exception, and clearly something was wrong then. But if you’re using the first syllabus I offered, then perhaps Assignment 4 was the activity on loops. It’s not surprising that they would do poorly on this subject, even if they did well on much of the rest of the course content. And yet that topic is weighed as just a simple piece of the final Classwork grade. If it were the lesson on loops, then they should find it very concerning that they don’t understand the material, since its so important! I would like the grading scheme to reflect that importance.

Obviously, this should be balanced with mastery-based grading; give them as many attempts as they need, within a reasonable amount of time. Give them the lesson in as many different forms as they need. These thoughts aren’t about punishing students for not performing perfectly. It’s about getting them to put energy where I feel it is most valuable.