Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cases in the Ethics of Grading: Dr. Jones and Tara Hightower

The following is a hypothetical case meant to raise questions about grading practices. I'd like to recognize Kenneth Strike and Jonas Soltis for their book "The Ethics of Teaching," which inspired the style and structure of this case. Enjoy and discuss!

Dr. Susan Jones, an assistant professor in her first year at Central State University, is teaching a molecular biology course to a class of about twenty undergraduates, most in their second or third year of college. The content of the class comes easy to Dr. Jones, but showing up on-time at 8:00 three days a week is not. Most of the class is struggling with the material and disliking the class, so to make the class more enjoyable she occasionally interrupts lecture with some "fun" activities, such as watching cartoons or playing games. Dr. Jones's primary suggestion to those struggling in the class is for them to see her during her office hours for individualized help. She is very generous with her time and has helped many students make improved progress with the coursework.

Tara Hightower is an honors student at Central State and is one of Dr. Jones's struggling students. Tara is proud and independent, and somewhat stubbornly chooses to not see Dr. Jones for individualized help. Tara attends every class, is always on time, and studies both the text and her notes for hours each week in order to keep up with the material. This has always been a successful strategy for Tara in the past, and she resents the idea that she should have to see Dr. Jones individually, especially since some class time is already being wasted on fun, games, and Dr. Jones's tardiness. Tara's scholarship and status in the honors program is dependent on her maintaining a 3.5 GPA, and she received a notice at midterm that she had a D in the class. If Tara can not substantially improve this grade, she'll be given a warning by the honors program and risks losing her scholarship.

At the end of the semester, Dr. Jones asks Tara to come see her about her final exam and grade for the course. At the meeting, Dr. Jones explains to Tara that while she passed both the homework and the final exam, she did not perform up to expectations and should take the course again. To ensure Tara retakes the course, Dr. Jones assigns her a failing grade. Tara feels that receiving an F for passing work isn't fair, but agrees that her performance was sub-par and knows she needs to retake the course, regardless if her grade was a D or an F. After meeting with her advisor, Tara changed her schedule so she could retake the course with a different professor the next semester. Tara received an A on the retaken course and regained a positive standing in the honors program.

  1. Can the extra hours Dr. Jones spends working with students individually make up for misused class time?
  2. Should Tara's refusal of any out-of-class individual help influence the grade she receives from Dr. Jones?
  3. Should the fact that Tara must retake the class, regardless of earning a D or F, matter to Dr. Jones?
  4. Teachers typically retain autonomy over their own grading practices. If Tara were to choose to protest the failing grade, who should have the power to change it? What are the ethical implications for Dr. Jones if her grades can be overturned?