Thursday, February 14, 2013

High-stakes grading

Many commentators are treating this story, about a Lehigh graduate student who received a 0 out of 25 for class participation and thus earned a C+ in the class, as a joke or a parable about entitlement gone amok.

But, I reserve judgement because the same thing happened to me in high school.
Thode took the class in the fall of 2009. Her instructor, Amanda Eckhardt, testified this week that she stood by the grade, saying Thode failed to behave professionally and thus earned zero out of 25 points in class participation, bumping her down a full letter grade.

"I ... believed she received the grade she earned," Eckhardt said.

The C-plus prevented Thode, an otherwise A student, from going on to the next class and advancing in her professional therapist studies, the newspaper reported. She wound up getting a master's degree in human development instead.

Her attorney, Richard Orloski, argued that Eckhardt targeted Thode because she is an outspoken advocate for gay marriage.

Eckhardt testified that while she believes marriage is between a man and a woman, she would never allow her personal views to influence her treatment of students. She said Thode had outbursts in class, did not participate appropriately, was emotionally unstable and failed to heed a warning letter.
California high school students are required to take a one-semester class in US government and civics. My HS teacher was so right wing, he made stuff up and proclaimed them as facts.  I disagreed with him in class one day when he said that Swedish socialism was so bad, that young women were constantly begging him and his wife to please take them to the US as a nanny so they wouldn't have to live under socialism.

I told him that I had just returned from Sweden and didn't see anything like that.  People seemed pretty happy with their lives.  In fact, I stayed with several families with many members who had worked or studied abroad, and they all said that they preferred their social safety net to the US environment.  (Some did express a preference for California weather*.)

When I received a B in that class, when I had earned 100% on all exams and quizzes, I asked the teacher why.  He replied that 20% of the class grade was participation and I had earned a 0.

I asked how that can be, when I participated.

He said that I did not participate correctly and grading is at his discretion.

That's how bullies react to evidence that contradict their views.  They try to shut down voices that bring up contradictory evidence.  When that fails, they abuse their power.

In high school, I could use the B as an extra chance to stand out among college applicants.  Do you remember the question in the application that asks if there is anything in your academic record that you wish to explain?  Anyway, it worked.  That low grade helped me get into every college where I applied.

I don't know what happened between Thode and Eckhardt.  But Thode's story is so similar to mine, that I give her the benefit of the doubt.

* My in-laws met and married in Sweden.  They immigrated for the weather and for a chance to live in a less homogeneous society.  But, they do fondly remember the way Swedes look out for each other.


  1. That has happened to me, Jim, and both of our kids. Outspokenness must run in the family. This is the kind of thing that makes people say teachers have too much power. My daughter's experience also involved speaking up for Gay Marriage (her best friend is gay). Amusingly enough, all of the teachers in question were right wing. Coincidence?

  2. What happened to you is OUTRAGEOUS. I'm glad it didn't hurt your college prospects but, seriously, that really annoys me.

  3. Funny that I too got a bad grade in government in high school. Our class participation grades were based on a mock congress where we were split into parties by gender and graded by our ability to get our legislation passed. The males (the majority party in the class) got all their legislation passed and got good grades for class participation while the females did not.

    An important lesson learned by me, and I still remember it 20+ years later.


Comments are open for recent posts, but require moderation for posts older than 14 days.