Calculating 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. Too much emphasis on high standards might stymie enrollment in your course for the following term, while "giving grades away" defeats your purpose for entering teaching in the first place.
While "academic freedom" provides a great deal of personal leeway in this issue, there are restraining forces of which you should be aware. These include the shared values of the department within which you teach, and increasingly common "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 mathematically 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 well in advance what factors, e.g. attendance, discernible trends of student performance improvement over the term, etc. that you will employ to deal with such decisions. Then discuss your thoughts with your mentor or other veteran instructor. Your goal must 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. Defending your actions successfully to instructional leaders and/or students will enable you to develop a reputation of which you can be proud.