Determining Final Course Grades
As we approach the end of the term, one of the thornier challenges you will likely face is the determination of students? final course grades. Your challenge is to balance your values of excellence and integrity with the best long-term interests of your students. While being too lenient defeats your purpose for entering teaching in the first place, awarding grades without recognition of a larger context often stifles motivation of individual students who might have closed the term more strongly than they began it. It also hinders your ability to nurture a following of students that contributes to your perceived effectiveness and sense of personal satisfaction.
While "academic freedom" provides a great deal of personal leeway in awarding of grades, there are potential restraining forces of which you should be aware. These include the shared values of the department within which you teach, and institutional "grade justification" procedures that many institutions have initiated to address the rather rampant "grade inflation" of recent years. Be sure to clarify appropriate practices with your instructional leader well before your final grades are due.
As you calculate your final grades -- based upon the scoring criteria and weights published in your syllabus -- you might well be surprised how frequently scores fall on the margin between two letter grades. Think through in advance what factors, e.g. attendance, discernible trends of student performance improvement over the term, etc. that you will employ in your decision-making. If possible, confirm your thoughts with your mentor or other veteran instructor. Your goals should be consistency and fairness to all students -- regardless of age, gender, work status, and other demographic and lifestyle characteristics. Be aware that in the increasingly customer-oriented and litigious environment in which higher education operates, you are at some point going to be challenged by a student over the grade you awarded. Defending your actions successfully -- to instructional leaders and/or students -- will enable you to solidify a reputation of which you can be justly proud