Google the title of this post if you do not know what I am talking about. It is an interesting story, but I have another.
One day long ago I was sitting at a large table in the LSU Student Union, because my office was too small for this work and the then new hangout, Highland Coffees, would be too distracting. I had stacks of papers in a humanities discipline, written in three different languages, around me, but in front of me was a swath of butcher paper upon which I was doing math.
Someone was walking over to me. I was young then and new, so I was used to being approached by men and did not look up right away. When I did, I was amazed to recognize my calculus T.A. from my undergraduate institution. In school I would go to his office and ask questions about calculus problems, and he would ask me questions about the French class he was trying to pass. We had both done well, and his reappearance now was a positive sign.
“You may be surprised to meet me here,” said he, “but I am not surprised to meet you, because I have been in this business long enough now to know that one does meet people again. Neither am I surprised to see you are teaching in your discipline. However, I do not understand why you are still doing so much math.”
“I am trying to learn how to curve grades,” I said. “I have never done it before. I am making projections based on different formulae to see how I can come up with a distribution I can stand by and the University will also respect. I have too many low grades here. I realize that the fulls give out an absolutely staggering quantity of Cs, Ds, and especially Fs, but I also understand I am in no position to do so myself. Hence my quandary.”
“I know,” said the T.A. “Earlier, I saw you reading the papers and muttering ‘Oh, God’ at the amazing errors they contained. I recognized myself as new faculty, and knew I had better come over here once I finished lunch.”
“So how did you solve the problem?” I inquired.
“Ah,” the T.A. said, “I realized that here, as at home, the grade of A+ is not normally given as it is awarded no extra grade points. So I invented it.”
“And how did that change things?”
“For myself, I place all the students to whom I would have assigned A and A- in the past in the category A+. That frees up A and A- for the students I would assign B+ and B, and then I take it all down from there. At the end I look at the spread and make a few minor adjustments, and I am finished. For reality checking, I have my ‘real’ grades, but these are then mapped onto a spread that is more reasonable here.”
I saw the logic of this strategy right away. I tried it out and it was good, and I have been doing it ever since. I still have grade complaints most semesters, but not enough to suffer the fate of Dominique Homberger.
Old calculus T.A., old artificer, stand me now in good stead.