Failing students who are close to passing?

In summary: I lowered the grade from a C- to a B-, then the student would still be required to take Physics 1 but would likely not pass. In that case, the student would have to repeat the course, and the amount of work and money that would be wasted was not worth it if the student did not truly understand and could not pass the material.In summary, at most schools, a student who is borderline between a passing and failing grade is given a chance to make up work if they have failed, or to receive a failing grade if they have failed outright.
  • #1
apple_mango01
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It's very quite easy to fail students who has an F. But,however how do teachers deal with students who are close to passing? What if the student has a 67% as their grade? Do you bump their grade to a 70% or you let them make up work?
 
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  • #2
My university (in Sweden) has a grading system A-F, where A-E are passing grades with A being the highest. There is also a grade Fx which is a failing grade that means students will get another shot at showing that they actually know what they failed in the examination.

Personally, I look a bit extra on the exams that are on the border between pass and fail before coming to a decision. I certainly do not automatically bump grades and if a student's exam warrants a failing grade (be it F or Fx) they will certainly get it, no matter how "close" they were to the passing grade. I have also failed students' extra work for upgrading their Fx to a passing grade. Almost getting a passing grade should not be and is not the same as getting a passing grade. If you start bumping people who are close to passing you are just effectively creating a lower standard and introducing a new passing level which is lower, which means other students will now be "close" to passing.
 
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  • #3
apple_mango01 said:
It's very quite easy to fail students who has an F. But,however how do teachers deal with students who are close to passing? What if the student has a 67% as their grade? Do you bump their grade to a 70% or you let them make up work?

First and foremost, you have to check with the school or dept. policy on this. Does the school already have an established guideline on dealing with borderline students? If it has, then an instructor's hand is almost tied in dealing with such a thing.

If there is a wiggle room, then assuming that there's nothing more a student can do, and that all the scores are in, then the only thing you can do is go back and look at the student's final exam that you just graded. The rubric that you have should provide an impartial scoring of the test score, but one can always look again to see if there are cases where you took off a bit too many points, or that certain things could pass as being OK and deserve partial credit. However, I normally don't do this except if I know the student has truly made an effort, showed active interest and participation in class, and had shown improvement.

Where I teach, 5% to 10% of the grades are based on class participation, online discussion, etc. Because the class is conducted based on the concept of Studio Physics, active participation of students is not only necessary, but it is also required. It is why "participation" carries a percentage in the students' grades. This gives me a very small leeway to award students who I believe deserve a higher final percentage score based on demonstrable performance in those factors (i.e. I can't simply say so-and-so shows active participation in class. I must also be able to show concrete evidence of it. The school requires it to prevent favoritism.).

But this means that helping a borderline student depends entirely on the individual student itself. A student that showed lack of interest and then crasheed in class and exams SHOULD fail. That is why there is an "F" grade.

Zz.
 
  • #4
At my last teaching job (the Air Force Academy), this issue was handed by the department head who would consult the course director and the classroom instructor(s) of borderline students. The key questions before moving a grade line downward were: 1) Does this (or these) students who would receive a passing grade really understand the course material well enough to ensure passing the downstream courses for which this course was a prerequisite? 2) Did these students make reasonable efforts at the course: completing homework and receiving help outside of class from available faculty? (Office hour visits were recorded, and Air Force Academy policies require professors to be available many hours each week. I directed an evening help center that was open 20 hours each week.) It was rare for a grade line to be moved downward by more than 0.5%, so that for a 70% grade cutoff, a 69.6% might end up passing, but a 67% never would.

At institutions where I had discretion to lower a grade line, my approach was similar. My first concern was fairness to the student: I rechecked the final exam to ensure a lower grade would not result from a grading error. My second concern was concern for downstream success. If the course was Physics 1, for example, was a student adequately prepared for Physics 2? There were students in my years of teaching with a 68% or so that were, but these students received a D in my courses according to my syllabus rather than an F. The way my course assessments and syllabus was designed, students with below a 60% were really not even close to being prepared for downstream courses, and it would have been a disservice both to them and to their downstream instructors to send them on.

As a teacher, well over half the students who failed my classes were handicapped in major ways due to a severe lack of prerequisite skills, usually a complete lack of algebra skills in Physics and Calculus courses, below even Algebra 1. The teachers who awarded passing grades in Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 and sometimes even college courses (College Algebra, Precalculus, and Calculus) were derelict in their duties and guilty of academic fraud against both these students and their institutions by sending these students forward. Recognizing this, I could not in good conscience commit the same fraud against these students. Given the course descriptions submitted by most institutions for accrediting purposes, a students without rudimentary Algebra skills should no more pass most Physics or Calculus courses than a student who can't read should pass most literature or history classes.
 
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  • #5
One thing to keep in mind is if you pass a student who is almost passing, do you also pass a student who is almost almost passing? What about almost almost almost passing?
 
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  • #6
Vanadium 50 said:
One thing to keep in mind is if you pass a student who is almost passing, do you also pass a student who is almost almost passing? What about almost almost almost passing?
I believe a good teacher will factor in circumstances. Is the student trying super hard, but had a bad day? Does the exam score reflect his yearly input?
 
  • #7
apple_mango01 said:
It's very quite easy to fail students who has an F. But,however how do teachers deal with students who are close to passing? What if the student has a 67% as their grade? Do you bump their grade to a 70% or you let them make up work?
This might sound harsh, but in my experience, students who end up in this situation typically don't deserve to pass the class. In some cases, students don't have an adequate grasp of the material, and I wouldn't be doing them any favors allowing them to go on to the next course. In other cases, students make many poor choices to end up in this situation, like deciding to turn in only half of the assignments. Why should I allow them to make work up at the end just so they can pass? It would be more work for me, and more importantly, it's not fair to the other students who abided by the course policies and turned their work in on time.
 
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  • #8
From a student perspective. I ussually get As in my courses, with an occasional B here and there. Gpa of 3.6, Math/Physics major.

I did badly one semester. My performance was due to a class requiring a project. I got stuck with lazy group mates and me and another student did the work of the other 3 people. Plus, I had a friend who was "suicidal" due to completing her program and not finding employment.

Anyways. I was always able to pass 3 out of 5 classes with an A. I took a W in one course. My friend mentally and physically exhausted me that semester.
It was to late to drop the other class (Analysis 1), but I had an A on both midterms. Due to not studying the last month because of the issues mentioned above. I did not go to the final. It was pointless for me to sit on a 3 hour examination where the test was foreign to me.

Anyways. The instructor of the course checked my student records. Notice that I preformed well in all my courses up to this point, so he noticed an outlier. I also participated, asked questions, and went to office hours.He reached out to me to as to why I did not attend the final for the course I was doing well in. I told him the issue, and asked him if it was possible to sign up for the course next semester with him since it was full.He gave me an incomplete, and gave me one year to take a final exam. I took it 4 months later, and got an A for the course.

The point of this story. Is to maybe look at "curving" on an individual basis. Similarly to what Zapper mentioned.
 
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  • #9
What an interested thread. I am a student and I was curious how do teachers approach this problem. I never had a teacher had to bump my grade from a 67 to a 70 percent.
 
  • #10
I take it that in your question, you need 70 to pass. Some courses 65 is a passing mark.

If a student had a 67, I would examine how close the student came to a 70. I would take this into consideration.

The answer would be different if there were many assessments and the student's average was 67, rather than there were few assessments and performance on one or two questions could have spelled the difference. .

I would look at his place in class. Suppose his 67 was within 20 points of the best student who earned 87, and there were (too) many students with less than 50 %. Then what would a reasonable teacher do?

Even outside of these cases, I would consider:

Did the student come to office hours. When he did come, did he engage with the conversation and participate. Did he attend lectures. I remember a student who sat in the front row, asked an occasional good question, and was engaged, although when I looked at his exam performance, it was marginal.

He passed and did progressively better in his future undergraduate coursework, and distinguished himself in grad school, passed his preliminary exams, etc.

Failing this student as a freshman would have seriously sidetracked him (for a paltry three points).

On the other hand, with five points from the passing curve, skipped lectures, unenthusiastic of missing laboratory attendance, etc. This student is just asking for it.
 
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  • #11
apple_mango01 said:
It's very quite easy to fail students who has an F. But,however how do teachers deal with students who are close to passing? What if the student has a 67% as their grade? Do you bump their grade to a 70% or you let them make up work?
To round-up or not is for the teacher or professor to judge. Might be, important to know why student is in the course and what comes next after this one. Reason for lower overall score could be important, and again, the teacher would be familiar with these details about the student. Without other specific information, rounding up from 67% to 70% likely not a good idea.
 
  • #12
If you are going to bump almost passing to passing, are you also going to bump almost B to B and almost A to A? Some of these students need the higher letter grade in order to keep scholarships or to enter a program of study with high standards.

As a teacher I have seen the 67% students work harder for their grades and end up better employees than the A-B students that did not have to study.

On a personal note, I was able to retake a program exit exam in graduate school. The exam was all discussion with handwritten responses. I am dyslexic and the panel could not read and follow some of my responses. I was able to take the old exam and rewrite and clarify my responses.
 
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  • #13
On the opposite end of pushing grades or scores up or down for possible (temporary) benefit to students, are some terminal (typically) course which are often used as terminal courses, in which some students may be on or near borderline grade, and allowing for grade-scale curving to give student a higher grade. This may be fine for cases in which the student has all the course credit in a subject that he needs and is not likely to go beyond the course. For this kind of general situation, if the student later decides he wants a further course or courses in the subject, he needs to be honest with himself and review some course content before trying to take any courses beyond what he last passed successfully; or to review to learn better the course in which he earned some successful grade.
 
  • #14
symbolipoint said:
On the opposite end of pushing grades or scores up or down for possible (temporary) benefit to students, are some terminal (typically) course which are often used as terminal courses, in which some students may be on or near borderline grade, and allowing for grade-scale curving to give student a higher grade. This may be fine for cases in which the student has all the course credit in a subject that he needs and is not likely to go beyond the course. For this kind of general situation, if the student later decides he wants a further course or courses in the subject, he needs to be honest with himself and review some course content before trying to take any courses beyond what he last passed successfully; or to review to learn better the course in which he earned some successful grade.
Agree 100%. It is called being an adult. Sadly, many students are not adults.
 
  • #15
I would say the main reason for students failing courses in later years is lack of prerequisite knowledge. Often this is the result of introductory courses placing too weak requirements for passing or doing students a "favour" by passing them when they are close to the cutoff.
 
  • #16
Orodruin said:
I would say the main reason for students failing courses in later years is lack of prerequisite knowledge. Often this is the result of introductory courses placing too weak requirements for passing or doing students a "favour" by passing them when they are close to the cutoff.

Adding on that I would say it is more than just the introductory courses though, I would wager that earlier on in middle school/high school, the students are not challenged enough to push their abilities to the "next" level.
Personally I have seent his many times, you know with parents complaining that tests are too hard and what not.
If you think about it that can be a much more problematic gap than introductory courses since those don't take much time in my experience, maybe three to four weeks top?

Anyways, just adding my two cents.
 
  • #17
I don’t think it is even about being challenged enough to progress to the next level. I believe it is even about not requiring the students to have a deep enough knowledge that they remember the basics.

Example: The most common mistakes in my GR course have been related to solutions to the classical Newtonian gravity... or would have been easily checked as false by considering the Newtonian limit.
 
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  • #18
Natuurfenomeen22 said:
Adding on that I would say it is more than just the introductory courses though, I would wager that earlier on in middle school/high school, the students are not challenged enough to push their abilities to the "next" level.
Personally I have seent his many times, you know with parents complaining that tests are too hard and what not.
If you think about it that can be a much more problematic gap than introductory courses since those don't take much time in my experience, maybe three to four weeks top?

Anyways, just adding my two cents.
Part of problem IMO is that it is difficult to find a single class format that may motivate all types of students. Best I could muster was sending my class notes ( as I would use in class) ahead of time , for students to explore. This makes it easier to explore and tweak their knowledge which , in my experience, helps motivate a lot of them.
 
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  • #19
My two experiences. In France the end of high school diploma that gets you an entry to university consists of a set of exams in each topic (maths, physics, etc.). Then the student gets a weighted average of all these exams, if it's above 10/20, the diploma is awarded. If it's slightly below, the student is given another chance (I forgot exactly how it is, but Google is your friend). Then if it's still below 10/20 even with that second chance, they may ask each person who graded the exams to regrade them and see whether it is possible to award a higher grade or not. If so, then the student might be safe (if the new weighted average is greater or equal to 10/20), and if not, it's fail.

In another country at university level, the grade for each course was set by a single 4 hours exam (sometimes more if the course is so big that 4 hours is not enough to solve enough problems to cover the whole course or the most important parts of it). The grading was generally very inconsistent and depended on the professor. Sometimes if a rookie mistake was made on X concept in an otherwise okayish exam, the exam was failed because the professor considered that the student must know X. Sometimes each problem i counted for n_i points, and passing meant having 4/10 or more. Some professors used a sort of logarithmical scale, so that getting a 4/10 or 10/10 is almost as hard, I do not know exactly how they awarded the grade. But as a rule of thumb, most professors would take an oral exam if they had doubts on whether the student knows the concept X or not.
For example if the student got a 4/10 but made a 'terrible rookie mistake' in an exercise, the professor might take a further oral exam (usually the same day) and ask the student to solve the problem on the black board, explaining each step of reasoning. If the student makes the mistake again, the professor will try to point it out and let the student correct it. If the student doesn't know how to correct it, it's over, it's a failed exam. While if the student knew how to correct it, a passing grade is awarded.

I personally think the oral exam is nice, because it's very quick to know if the student knows or not X and whether he simply messed up a particular question on the exam but knows how to fix it. In that case the lowest passing grade could be deserved. But that's only in case of a single exam determining the grade.
Because if the student gets a grade based on homework and tests and final exam, then he already had his opportunity not to fail, several times. In that case a 49/100 does not turn into a 50/100 (assuming 50/100 is the passing grade) and there is no oral exam to save the boat.
 
  • #20
This is a painful topic. To be honest about what grades mean you have to abide by the rule you announce as to what passing means. On the other hand it is hard to assign a numerical grade accurately. So in the case of near failing grades, I always looked again very closely at not only the number, but the overall impression of the performance. I also eventually developed such generous conditions, (e.g. I dropped several low scores then I gave three different grades: based on averages, including or excluding homework, then based solely on the final exam, with passing allowed for passing on any of them), that a student who did not pass based on any aspect of this offer, really should not pass.

Nonetheless I violated my own terms in favor of at least one student. This was initially a goof off who got religion when I emphasized that just being a senior with a job offer was not sufficient to get a pass, one had to earn it. The student began to work all the homework, to come into office hours regularly for help, and really improved over several weeks. There followed a decent final performance that still (this was before broadening the passing scheme) produced an average that came up only to 69.4%, when 70% was the passing minimum. I agonized and felt guilty, obviously since I still remember it, but ultimately gave it to him, but did not say I had done so, so as not to diminish the satisfaction.

On this topic you might read the life story of successful author Jesse Stuart, who was failed in a college course at Vanderbilt, even though he submitted a publishable novel for evaluation, but did not complete the technically required coursework. I remember my mother arguing to me that he should have passed. but I pointed out that he did not choose to do what he was told was required, even if he did something more impressive. I myself once gave a B to a brilliant "straight A" student because he did not complete the required work, although his other work was exceptional. He later became a very successful academic and even solved some rather famous problems. But at the time, I just felt it was not fair to change the criterion for an A after stating it to everyone and holding everyone else to it. You have to treat everyone the same, and you have to do what you say you will do. But the older you get the softer you get.

If you grade strictly like this however, you will probably pay for it in student evaluations, and may have trouble winning teaching awards based on them.

By the way, if you want to learn what teaching was like in the rural Kentucky schools where my father grew up, read Stuart's "The thread that runs so true", wherein he describes having to literally fist fight recalcitrant students, as well as their parents who wanted to break up school functions. He even walked over a snowy mountain pass in winter, sleeping under a makeshift cover, in order to bring back books for his students.

One father came by the school to complain that his son was attending school rather than working the family trade. Stuart took a look at his wagon load of coal, and taught him to compute its volume, learning thereby that he had just been severely cheated by the coal buyer. The father allowed the son to remain in school. Honest teaching is a worthwhile practice.
 
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  • #21
mathwonk said:
If you grade strictly like this however, you will probably pay for it in student evaluations, and may have trouble winning teaching awards based on them.

My experience has been I could either grade according to my syllabus or get good student evaluations. I always got great student evaluations in teaching situations where I did not assign grades. But assigning grades honestly has always produced lower student evaluations.
 
  • #22
When I did my degree all those moons ago there was a special grade just for this called pass conceded. It was awarded to students that nearly passed but after discussion between the lecturer and other members of the department it was decided they should still pass.

Thanks
Bill
 
  • #23
bhobba said:
When I did my degree all those moons ago there was a special grade just for this called pass conceded. It was awarded to students that nearly passed but after discussion between the lecturer and other members of the department it was decided they should still pass.

Thanks
Bill
Faculty members using a practice like that no doubt should make that decision based on the course being a terminal course in some line of sequence of courses. If no further courses like this would be expected, such as requiring it as prerequisite, then this "pass conceded" may be justified.
 
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  • #24
As a student who is currently a teachers assistant in a middle school classroom, I’d say offer extra credit to bump up the grade if they are students who are trying very hard and had a personal issue that lead to the problem in th first place
 
  • #25
@Stephenk53 , would you advocate passing a medical student who was a nice person, who's trying very hard and maybe had a personal issue, but who failed his certification exam? Would your answer be different if it were for surgery and his nickname was "shaky Bob"?

At what point is it OK to say "this person doesn't know all the material he should" or "this person can't do everything he should"?
 
  • #26
Vanadium 50 said:
@Stephenk53 , would you advocate passing a medical student who was a nice person, who's trying very hard and maybe had a personal issue, but who failed his certification exam? Would your answer be different if it were for surgery and his nickname was "shaky Bob"?

At what point is it OK to say "this person doesn't know all the material he should" or "this person can't do everything he should"?
Or an engineer who cannot do calculus ... I often remind myself that when I cross a bridge, the engineer who did the computations to ensure the safety probably only needed 50-60% correct on his strength of materials exam to pass ...
 
  • #27
Vanadium 50 said:
@Stephenk53 , would you advocate passing a medical student who was a nice person, who's trying very hard and maybe had a personal issue, but who failed his certification exam? Would your answer be different if it were for surgery and his nickname was "shaky Bob"?

At what point is it OK to say "this person doesn't know all the material he should" or "this person can't do everything he should"?
True, I suppose it depends on the material and grade level, as a person studying elementary education I could offer extra credit but a 4th year college professor cannot
Edit: the student would of course have to be very close to passing
 
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  • #28
Stephenk53 said:
As a student who is currently a teachers assistant in a middle school classroom, I’d say offer extra credit to bump up the grade if they are students who are trying very hard and had a personal issue that lead to the problem in th first place
Stephenk53 said:
True, I suppose it depends on the material and grade level, as a person studying elementary education I could offer extra credit but a 4th year college professor cannot
Edit: the student would of course have to be very close to passing

Strongly disagree. All one is doing by passing the student in elementary school is creating a middle school student who expects to pass without adequate mastery of the material and who doesn't have the needed foundation to succeed in middle school. Then the middle school teachers do the same thing and send the student with inadequate preparation to high school.

By the time these loser students get to college they have an entitlement mentality and don't believe teachers will fail them even if they have not learned the material.

It's never too early to maintain the articulated standards for passing a course. And failing to maintain the articulated standards IS fraud - fraud against the taxpayers, fraud against the student, fraud against the parents who entrusted the school, and fraud against downstream stakeholders who depend on the prior education meeting its articulated standards.
 
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  • #29
But isn't it better to have layers and layers of fraud than to risk hurting a student's feelings?
 
  • #30
It's always a difficult decision. I think it helps to take a second look at his test and work to see what types of mistakes led to the bad grade. Some people know the basics, but make simple mistakes, others do not know the basics. I would give the first the benefit of the doubt but not the latter.
 
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  • #31
If a surgeon "just makes simple mistakes" should the board license him?
 
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  • #32
Vanadium 50 said:
If a surgeon "just makes simple mistakes" should the board license him?
No. But retaking a class is necessary for someone who does not know the basics. It may not help someone who already knows it.
 
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  • #33
FactChecker said:
No. But retaking a class is necessary for someone who does not know the basics. It may not help someone who already knows it.

Having to retake a class because one has not yet learned to check one's work and avoid careless errors provides just a valuable a lesson as having to retake a class because one has not learned the basics.

I've had too many students in my courses who had been rewarded by their earlier teachers for carelessness. For example, most students "knew" the quadratic formula from their algebra classes. But very few exercised sufficient care with it to solve simple projectile motion problems.

Knowing all the algebra type basics is insufficient for success in most problem based physics courses. One has to have developed habits of care in each algebraic step and in checking the answer at the end of the problem.
 
  • #34
Dr. Courtney said:
One has to have developed habits of care in each algebraic step and in checking the answer at the end of the problem.

Yes, students do not realize and teacher do not emphasize that school should teach us more than what is in the texts.
 
  • #35
Orodruin said:
I often remind myself that when I cross a bridge, the engineer who did the computations to ensure the safety probably only needed 50-60% correct on his strength of materials exam to pass ...

There was a professor where I was an undergraduate who would answer complaints about "it was just a sign error" with "make sign error, build bridge upside down. People and cars fall off. No credit."
 

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