Grades What they mean

This page describes the standards that I employ in assigning grades to written work. Specifically, it describes my general attitude towards grades, what letter grades mean, the numerical scale that will be used to compute the final grade, and how the penalty for late papers is calculated.

If you have questions about these standards, or if you think they have not been followed accurately in a particular case, please let me know. It is very important to me both that your work is given a fair evaluation and that you see it that way.

To get a sense of how I apply these standards, I recommend reading the page of advice on philosophical writing.

About grades

I am committed to seeing that my students are able to do very high quality work and that high quality work will be recognized. I do not employ a curve and there is nothing competitive about grading in my courses.

Grades apply to papers, not to people. They have no bearing on whether I like or respect you. In particular, they do not measure improvement or hard work. This is because there is no fair way to assess these factors.

Even if there were a way of assessing effort and progress, it would be misleading for grades to reflect these things since one may put a lot of effort into trying to make a bad idea work or produce a very good paper with ease. Trust me, I have done both. So I try to confine myself to offering as honest an evaluation of the work itself as I can.

I understand that it is stressful and unpleasant to have one’s work graded. I don’t particularly enjoy doing it for that very reason. While I think we make far too much of grades, they are a good way of communicating where written work stands on as objective a scale as we can devise. Just bear in mind that this is really all that they involve.

What the letters mean

  1. A papers are accurate, elegantly written, and innovative. An A paper adds something original, creative, or imaginative to the problem under discussion. The grade of A is given to papers that are exceptional.
  2. B papers are accurate, well written, and have no significant problems. The grade of B signifies very good work. What’s the difference between A papers and B papers? Less than you think. In general, B papers are less innovative than A papers. This may be because the paper does not attempt to add much or because the attempt made is not fully successful.
  3. C papers have problems with accuracy, reasoning, or quality of writing. The grade of C means that the paper has significant problems but is otherwise acceptable.
  4. D papers have severe problems with accuracy, reasoning, relevance, or the quality of writing. D quality work is not acceptable college-level work. By “relevance”, I mean the relationship between written work and the course. A paper may be quite good on its own, but if it does not address the question asked, or if it shows little knowledge of what was said during the class sessions, it is not relevant to my evaluation of work for this particular course. This sometimes catches people taking a course pass/no credit by surprise. Pass/no credit is a fine thing, but you’re almost certainly going to have to come to class in order to pass.
  5. The grade of F is given to work that has not been completed, cannot be understood, or has little relevance to the course.

The numerical scale

You should see a number on your paper that falls within the range of a given letter grade. Using numbers like this makes it easy to implement a no-fault late policy and to employ some discrimination within grades by giving higher or lower numbers within the range for a given grade.

Final grades will be assigned using the College’s grade scale, as described on p. 38 of the 2007-08 Catalog. The table shows how they will be assigned. The numerical average must be greater than half the distance between two grades in order to earn the higher grade.

The weight given to each assignment is described in the syllabus.

Letter and number grades
A 12 11.5 < A ≤ 12
A- 11 10.5 < A- ≤ 11.5
B+ 10 9.5 < B+ ≤ 10.5
B 9 8.5 < B ≤ 9.5
B- 8 7.5 < B- ≤ 8.5
C+ 7 6.5 < C+ ≤ 7.5
C 6 5.5 < C ≤ 6.5
C- 5 4.5 < C- ≤ 5.5
D+ 4 3.5 < D+ ≤ 4.5
D 3 2.5 < D ≤ 3.5
D- 2 1.0 < D ≤ 2.5
F 0 0.0 < F ≤ 1

Late papers

I understand that you can get jammed up with assignments. I do two things to help. First, I give you a lot of time to complete writing assignments. Second, I accept late papers with no questions asked and a mild penalty. (I have to have some incentive to turn them in on time, for obvious reasons).

So, plan ahead and do the assignment well in advance. But if your plans go awry, disaster strikes, opportunity knocks, or you’re stuck for whatever reason, turn it in a day late. It won’t kill you.

The penalty is one quarter of a point (0.25) per day. That includes weekends and holidays. If you want to turn an assignment in on a day when the office is closed, email it to me in order to establish when it was completed. Then turn a paper copy in to the office as soon as you can.

Finally, the penalty stops at C- (4.51). Why? I don’t think that the late penalty should make a difference between receiving a grade that indicates your work is acceptable and one that indicates it is unacceptable. That’s a fudge since there is a sense in which turning in work weeks late really is unacceptable. But grades are crude measuring devices and so require fudges.

This page was written by Michael Green for The Image of God, ID-1, Fall 2007. It was posted 20 August 2007.
The Image of God