Monday, July 27, 2009

Pass / Fail Assignments

My wife recently started her masters of social work at Portland State University.  Her first major assignment was a paper connecting her bachelor's level experience and learning with what she has now begun at her master's level internship.  The paper is a pass / fail assignment (as is the class).

The result I see is that she is less stressed during the writing of this paper than she has been with her entrance essay, scholarship essays or any of the other countless pieces of writing she needed to complete to get accepted to the university.  The stakes were so much higher.

Since my wife is a member of the "new" or "knowledge class" (a term from one of her social work readings), she didn't cut corners on her paper.  I'm wondering what balance I would have to strike to get my student's best work and also offer this nerve-liberating form of grading for papers or assignments.  I could always ask students to revise specific pieces of a paper to get it to a passing grade, but at what point do students say "why bother, I'm never going to get it good enough for him to be happy."  And I can think of a few students who would cut every corner they could - some of them did it last year.  But then again, maybe they shouldn't have passed because of it.


  1. As a (almost) Junior in high school, I know how frustrating grading can be. With all A's except for one A- in my advanced algebra class, one should expect a 4.0. Nope. 3.89. I was furious. I was two tenths of a percent away from an A in my math class and yet I have to suffer for taking advanced classes above my year. I love pass/fail assignments. Being a perfectionist I don't like cutting corners, even if I know I can slack off some. Sometimes you just gotta be tough on your students. It can be the only way we learn or respect you.
    Love the thought process behind your blog. Teachers who are in tune with their students are the ones who make the favorite teacher list. :)

  2. Thanks for your comments. I can understand how frustrating it would be to lose some significant points to an A-.

    I'm a little confused about what you're supporting. It sounds like you think pass/fail assignments are good and that you personally wouldn't cut corners. When you say I should be tough on my students, do you mean hold them to high passing requirements?

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I do support pass/fail assignments. While I, and many other good students wouldn't cut corners, the same cannot be said about all students. Some students may need to be held to a higher standard than others. While you are in fact judging them and perhaps being tougher on some students as opposed to others, sometimes I think it is necessary to get students to do the best they can. Some students may hate you for this, but each student is at their own level and should be treated as such in my opinion.
    Good luck with your classes! :)

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