We understand that there is a lot of confusion about the way grading was done for this class, so want to provide more explanation of how we do the grading and why. The main explanation of final grading is what was provided on the syllabus:

Final Grade Determination.The final grade in the course will be determined by combining the cohort grade and the final exam grade with both counting substantially. In most cases, we expect the cohort and exam grades will be consistent and provide clear evidence supporting the grade a student has earned in the course. In cases where they are inconsistent, we will consider a student’s performance through the course in more detail including the detailed feedback provided from the cohort meetings, and view signs of improvement throughout the semester positively. In cases where a student’s grade is not clear based on their cohort assessments, we will provide option for students to request an oral final exam to be scheduled with one of the instructors during the exam period.

This is what we followed, but we should have communicated more details on what this means since it is different from the grading systems most of you are accustomed to, and we can see why students find the description there too vague to understand what we actually did.

There is a tradeoff between having a simple and transparent grading system, and having a flexible and complex one. Many students seem to think there is a simple, but secret, formula we use that takes your recorded grades as inputs and outputs a final letter grade (leading to questions like “what is the weighting of the exam?”). We don’t have any such formula, and believe there is no way to have such a grading system without it being arbitrary and misguided. Instead, we analyze all the information we have in many different ways, and see if they justify a particular outcome.

Because we have two professors for this class, we can also do this at a higher level, which is what we did for determining final grades. This meant that both professors used the raw information we have recorded for each student, and determined our own ways of analyzing it to generate proposed grades. For Dave, this included looking at just cohort grades, just the final exam, a equal (normalized) combination of both, as well as the trends over the semester in the cohort grades and peer evaluation scores. For Nate, this included looking at weightings where cohort was 80% and final was 20%, where cohort grades were 60% and final was 40%, and considering peer evaluations submitted and scores. Then, we combined our independently produced grade proposals. If we determined the same exact grade for a student, we made that the proposed final grade. For all the cases where we determined different grades, we discussed the student and settled on an agreed grade by looking at all factors available to us, and comparing the student’s record to others where we agreed. After this, we sorted all the students based on two different methods to look for any anomalies, and made adjustments that seemed justified.

This resulted in the expected final grades. You had the opportunity on your final to indicate your minimum expected grade, and students who indicated a higher grade than the final grade we determined have been given an opportunity to do an oral exam (this applied to 27 out of 247 students). We also offered oral exam opportunities to students who left the minimum grade box blank on the final, but where there was a large disconnect between their cohort grades and their final exam grade (this applied to 10 students). For everyone else, the cohort and final exams were consistent enough that we felt comfortable assigning a grade based on whichever one was higher (with adjustments for community score).

We should also explain a bit about the final exam exemptions. No one should have expected an exemption on the final exam, and it was expected from the syllabus that everyone would have to take the final. Exemptions were granted to students where we felt we had an abundance of evidence that they had gotten what we wanted from the class and deserved an A grade without needing to provide more evidence by taking the final. As with the final grades, the two professors independently decided on a list of students to grant exemptions (as with the final grades, these were not based on a simple formula on your cohort points, but took various other factors into account), and then met to reconcile these lists to find a consensus list of less than 30% of students in the course who we felt had already done enough for us to be convinced they deserved an A in the class.

Granting exemptions has benefits to the students getting them, of course, since they can use the three hours scheduled for the final to cook pancakes, hike in the woods, or catch up on sleep, but also benefits all the other students in the class by making the exam room for the final less crowded, and enabling the course staff to spend more time grading each exam.

There are two kinds of errors in granting exemptions - false positives, where a student who doesn’t really deserve an A in the class is granted an exemption, and false negatives, where a student who might be as worthy of an exemption as a student who was granted one is not granted an exemption. We tried to avoid false positives by having a fairly high criteria for exemptions, so most likely have many false negatives, but the consequences of a false negative should be fairly low - if a student understood the course material well enough to deserve an exemption, the final should not be a painful experience for them, and they should do well on it. There were 60 students who didn’t get exemptions on the final who ended up with A grades after taking the final, so potentially most of those students are “false negatives” who should have gotten exemptions if we could have been more clairvoyant in granting exemptions.

For students who wish to have their final exams returned to them, Prof. Brunelle has all exams in his office (Rice 209). He will be in his office at least between 10:30am and 3pm tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 13). (We may be able to offer some more times for picking up exams, and will post these on Discord when they are scheduled.)