Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Prof. Justice: Stupid Student Tricks


Now that the Spring 2006 semester has concluded, I have once again been barraged with email from disgruntled students angry at their horrendous examination performance, er, rather, at me for having the unmitigated gall to assign a grade based on that performance. I should note that my grading policy, which is clearly stated in the course syllabus, affords each student the opportunity to drop the lowest quiz score and receive the final examination score as the final grade if it exceeds a student’s weighted average (based on the nominal percentage value of each course requirement). Below are actual emails from real students, exactly as I received it. My responses follow. The names have been changed to protect the brainless:

(Gretchen) Hi Professor, How are you? Hope you still remember me. I was so shocked this morning when I found that I got a grade C on the course that I took with you. I studied so hard for this one, never missed any of your class. I am just wondering, if the “C” was a typo or what? It is very important for me to get a good grade, most of my grades are A, I have never received such a low one. I was almost kill myself when I first saw this ……Please, please help me double check this record, and kindly reply to me at your convenience.

I understand your frustration but please, don’t kill yourself. I have no doubt that you worked hard. Unfortunately, working hard doesn’t determine your grade. Performance does. Your final exam score was 68 and your course average, as correctly calculated, is 75 which translates to a C.

No, you don’t understand what this first C I have ever got means to me: I am a Golden Key member, and my GPA was always kept above 3.875 before I got this grade. With a future plan of going to a graduate school, I have been studying very hard ever since I attended this college. With a grade C in my record, I will not be able to be accepted by a good graduate school or to receive scholarships in the future. It is not only a better letter that you could give me, it is a very huge impact that you could make to my future. Please, please kindly reconsider it again, I always respect you and say good words about you to my schoolmates and other fellow students, you don’t understand how disappointed this C has made me. Please, kindly, make it higher than C.

Thank you x 1000 times!

Exactly what grade do you want me to “make it higher than C?” C+? B? B+? Why stop there? Why not just ask me to make it an A? Better yet, why don’t I just give every student a B or even an A, regardless of performance. Or maybe I should just ask students if they worked hard and if they say that they did, give them an A? Does this sound silly to you? Well it should, because it is. You’ll forgive me if I sound rude, but I find it impossible to understand how you or any student would seriously expect me to just give a higher grade because you worked hard, you’ve never received a C before, your GPA might be lowered, you won’t get into a good graduate school or won’t be able to procure future scholarships (which, by the way, isn’t true). If your logic is correct, which clearly it is not, would I also be responsible for your inability to find a job? One thing that you most certainly should have realized about me is that you will not further your cause by inferring that somehow I will be responsible for the consequences of your poor performance. I am stunned that you do not seem the least bit embarrassed to even make such a request. Your performance is solely your responsibility, not mine. I cannot and will not, in good conscience, give something that was not earned. It demeans the significance of achievement and personal responsibility. Moreover, it cheapens the value of every other student’s performance. Lastly, it is not the right thing to do for you either. I do, however, wish you much success in your future efforts.


(Laura) Dear Professor, Is it possible for you to give me a C- instead of the D+ so I don’t have to take this class over. Please i am begging I have been to everyone of your class I also Passed the midterm exam. Please reply to me if you could change this grade thanks.

First, understand that I don’t “give” anyone their grade. All grades are earned. More important, I don’t understand how you can seriously make such a request considering that your quiz average, with the lowest grade dropped, was 53 and your final exam score was 57. In other words, 60% (40% final exam and 20% quiz average) of your semester’s performance was a failure. And your midterm score, which wasn’t exactly stellar, was 70. So, exactly why is it that you feel you earned a C- ?

I really need a C- because I am on academic probation and I do not want to be kicked out of school. I really hope that you could help me out. I know I have not really done that well but I was always there for class. Please professor. I am really trying to improve and I hope that you could assist me in doing so.

But that doesn’t answer the question, which is, what about your performance on the course requirements warrants a C-? It seems unfair of you to ask that I “assist” you in your effort to improve by “giving” you a grade that you did not earn because it assumes that somehow I will be responsible for your being kicked out of school. I’m sure there are reasons why you are in the position that you are, but it is nevertheless your doing, not mine.


(Jay) Do you truly believe that I deserve a “D” for this course?

What I believe is that you are confused. The course syllabus, which I’m sure you read and are very familiar with, states on Page 3, Note 11, “there is no Constitutional right to receive an “A” (or any other grade) in this Course. All grades must be earned and are based exclusively upon your performance on the examinations, quizzes, attendance and participation.” Precisely what about this do you not understand?

Frankly, your implication that I would assign a grade for any reason other than that which is deserved is offensive and inappropriate. Moreover, if you are really interested in knowing what grade you “deserved,” you need not look any further than your performance which, according to the average college standard, was sub-par. Actually, you probably deserved a failing grade. You failed the final examination and barely passed the midterm. I even gave you the benefit of the full 5% participation points, despite not having done so in a consistent and meaningful way. Note to yourself; asking what material will be on the exam after announcing it in class numerous times, posting it on the web “blackboard” and outlining it on the Syllabus does not constitute participation. Accordingly, I do indeed believe you deserve a D because it is the grade you earned. I also believe that nothing more needs to be said.


(Eric) Hi Professor. To tell you the truth I was a little surprised with my grade in your class last semester. I know it is not just a little snobby rather it is very snobby to complain about an A-, but after two semesters this kills my 4.0. It is not just the fact that this runes my average, it is honestly that my parents really care about this. Also, I am really puzzled with the grade, my quiz scours were very good and on the midterm barley anyone did better. Going in to the final exam I was pretty confident that I knew the material pretty well and I thought my writing showed that. I am curios what I got on the final that resulted with the A-, also I am obviously curios if there is anything I can pleas do to get the A that I really want (and, with all do respect, even think I might deserve).

Though I’m gratified that you recognize the absurdity in “complaining” over an A-, it obviously didn’t preclude you from doing so. Perhaps more telling, however, is that you don’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed to tell me the reason you “really want” an A is because an A- “kills my 4.0” that you have so laboriously earned during a whole “two semesters.” And if that isn’t absurd enough, claiming it is I who will be responsible for “ruin[ing]” your average, besides being melodramatic, is inane. Adding “that my parents really care about this” was a nice emotional touch, but otherwise ludicrous. Given your brilliant logic and eloquent articulation, however, I am disappointed that you didn’t ask for an A+. Then, next semester, when a professor has the audacity to “give” you an A-, you’ll have extra points available to offset your “ruined” 4.0 GPA. I do agree that your quiz scores were very good. Actually, your quiz average (after having dropped the lowest score) was 100 which is not just very good. It’s perfect. However, quizzes represent only 20% of your final grade. I also awarded you the entire 5% for class participation despite it having been substantially less than your classmates. Your midterm score, which constitutes 30% of your final grade, was 88. You’ll note that 88 is distinguishably different from 100: 100 is perfect; 88 is very good. But very good is neither perfect nor close to perfect. So, just as you seem to be puzzled over your “extremely good” A-, which is somewhere between perfect/ excellent (100) and very good “88”, I am equally puzzled that you either didn’t read or didn’t notice, despite my bringing it to the class’ attention the first day of the course, Page 3, Paragraph 11 of the course Syllabus which provides as follows:

Contrary to what seem to be popularly-held notions, there is no Constitutional right to receive an “A” (or any other grade) in this Course. All grades must be earned and are based exclusively upon your performance on the examinations, quizzes, attendance and participation as indicated above. There are NO extra credit options.

In other words, feeling “pretty confident that I knew the material pretty well” and thinking your writing “showed that” is not relevant. What is relevant is your performance, not only on the final, but in the course. As my policy clearly states, you’re not entitled to an “A” simply because you think you deserved one. Actually deserving it is required. In the future, you may want to consider evaluating your actual performance before spouting nonsensical statements. There is never a substitute for personal responsibility.

It appears to me that these students all suffer from an inability to accept responsibility for themselves. Sadly, such students seem to be in the majority. At the end of every semester, I receive email like this. In my day (which wasn’t long ago - I’m not that old, yet) no student would dare engage in such discourse. While there may be many explanations why many students now do, I believe it is primarily a manifestation of parental failure and political posturing. Parents can’t or won’t instill children with the proper morals, values and discipline that students need to learn how to accept responsibility for themselves. They intimidate teachers and school officials into inaction by threatening to file complaints or bring legal action over virtually anything. Our politicians, for their part, are more concerned with pandering to their electorate, jumping in front of a camera or relentlessly playing the blame game. Teacher unions demand more money for “education,” yet classroom conditions don’t improve and salaries don’t go up. Tenure, which is often a form of concealed protectionism, renders it difficult to remove ineffective or incompetent teachers from the classroom. Outcome-based “education” and social promotion eliminate the time-honored value of achievement based on performance rather than effort or age. The result: failure to implement an effective system of natural and logical consequences for students’ performance. Then, parents, teachers and politicians point their proverbial finger’s at each other because students aren’t learning.

Growing up, I learned several very important lessons. If I wanted to achieve something, I had to work hard for it. But merely working hard, by itself, didn’t mean that I would succeed. And if I did not achieve my desired objective, I would nevertheless have obtained a benefit by accomplishing something from which to improve upon. Such lessons were learned, first and foremost, from academic examinations and other types of competition. On many occasions, my performance, for whatever reason, merited neither an “A” nor a “win.” I learned from it and figured out how to improve. Nowadays, however, we seem to be preoccupied with whether children are going to feel bad about themselves. And instead of building their self esteem by letting them experience the “pain” of failure, many feel it is better to simply remove them from it. Social promotion, outcome-based education and even no-score sports may be a “feel good” approach to building self-esteem, but destroys character development. Sure, parents don’t enjoy seeing their children disappointed and dejected over their poor performance at anything. But that’s precisely what parents are for: to guide children through those difficult situations in preparation of life’s challenges. So when parents blame the teachers, the board of education and the politicians for their children’s failures, what do you think their children will learn?

Recently, during a New York City Department of Education meeting, parents complained that their children are being overwhelmed with the city’s plan to regularly test their academic achievement. A woman from Washington Heights exclaimed, “Why be stressing our kids out with more tests? [sic] . . . These are little kids - too many assessments will not be conducive to learning.” Come again? That sounds like she needs to go back to elementary school and learn a few things - like logical reasoning and English grammar. Other parents complained that the tests would take away from critical teaching time in the classroom and would place more emphasis on simply learning for a test. Huh? Randi Weingarten, president of the city’s teachers union, argued that “in addition to the other high-stakes state tests already in place - this is simply formalizing what we’ve already seen, namely too much testing.” Are you kidding me? Learning in preparation for a test is a problem? I find it impossible to believe that one can make such an argument without turning red from embarrassment. Incidentally, I’ve seen the material that students in the third and fifth grade are tested on. Trust me. These tests don’t measure brilliance. In fact, they ought to be called illiteracy tests, not assessment tests. Any child merely sitting in a classroom, absent a learning disability, should have no difficulty passing them.

The quality of our education system has deteriorated far below that which it once was, mostly because parents, for some inexplicable reason, demand their children be relieved from responsibility rather than assisting them in embracing it. Consequently, when they take my course, as college juniors and seniors ostensibly in their major, they rarely possess the intellectual capability and the personal responsibility to succeed. And the only thing they learned is to blame someone else for their failures - starting with me.


  1. I'm amazed at the poor writing of the students. I wrote better than that in middle school.

  2. Sorry, but your response to the first student, while being logically correct, was a little harsh. If you were clearly not going to change a grade, perhaps you could have broken it to them a bit more gently because they were obviously devastated that their hard work got them nowhere. While it was good that you pointed out the difference between dedication and performance, you must be careful that the students don't lose faith in hard work all together.

  3. Professor Justice: You would be advised to perhaps learn how to assign grades based on the methodology of Prof. Yosef Shiftan from Bar Ilan University's Computer Science Department.

    His simple rules are the following:

    1. Any female enclosing a picture of herself in a grade booklet automatically passes the course.

    2. The usual way a final exam is graded is that Prof. Shiftan throws the exam booklets down from the top of his stairs. The exams landing on the higher stairs get better grades, those on the lower

    Oh right, Israel's Ministry of Education in Israel refuses to accept YU's degrees, but Bar Ilan University's are totally acceptable.

    (btw - these stories have been documented in the press in Israel...he wouldn't deny these stories either)

  4. I teach a parenting class; may I have permission to reproduce this for the parents who take my course? A stunning display of gall and obnoxiousness by those students, beautifully responded to by the Professor. I would love to use this post in my class - email me at ezerknegdo at gmail dot com if you don't mind me using it. Thanks!

  5. A bit harsh. responding to obnoxious students with obnoxious comments makes you just as bad. are you their teacher, or their classmate....

  6. hey! lovet his blog!

  7. I don't find the answers rude, myself. I've seen students trying to get their grades higher like this; it's blatant disregard for what they've done in class. If they were so desperate for a higher grade, they could have asked for extra work throughout the semester or given better reasons why their grade shouldn't match their performance. That it kills their GPA or they are on probation is not the problem of the Professor.

    As a note, I got an A in this Professor's class (somehow :) ). It was a small class - 3 of the 4 of us got near 100 on the final, while the 4th guy got about an 85. We got A's, he got a B. Nobody complained.

  8. You're teaching in college these days? Didn't you just graduate from college yourself?
    I don't get it...though I fully agree that grades must be earned. "Class participation" etc also bugged me.

  9. With all "do" respect, I commend you for the stand you're taking. How absurd that your position needs to be a stand at all.

    I remember teaching sixth graders in a yeshiva. They clearly were expecting to be spoonfed and were shocked to learn that I demanded that they actually think and figure things out on their own. It took a month for them to realize that they could read the directions on the top of the page all by themselves! Apparently, their previous teachers had been in the habit of reading written directions aloud to them. Twice. That's another thing they learned. Better listen to my directions the first time because I'm not going to repeat myself. Children today are conditioned to tune out the first few rounds of directions because they will be accommodated when they raise their hands for a repetition. Horror! The first parent-teacher conference had several parents complaining that I was too tough and these were after all just little children. They felt it was unfair to give critical thinking questions on a test because "it's not in their notes". I stood firm. By the end of the year, my students were taking notes without my dictating every word at a snail's pace or writing full sentences on the board (!). They actually thought before they asked a question. They actually listened - the first time. And their parents were showering me with thanks.

    One thing I will say, though, is that I do see the problem in learning for the tests. Being currently employed by the Department of Education and working at a public elementary school, I see what happens in the months before a test. The teaching is geared entirely for the test, to the near exclusion of other content subjects like science and social studies. It's like an intensive Kaplan course. Do you actually gain much knowledge in those courses? I doubt it (although, I'll admit, I've never taken a test prep course so I can't say for sure). Rather, the concentration is on skills and strategies that give you better chances at scoring well. (I also think these sort of tests need to be given at the end of a school year rather than November, January, or other such "early" months.)

    When I went to school, in a bais yaakov type school, we had "achievement tests" at the end of the year to assess our achievement. I'm not sure what the point was, except to tell the parents what percentile their child fell into in terms of academics. I'd like to think that the school used the scores to focus in on areas of the curriculum that needed strengthening and particular students that needed extra attention (enrichment anyone? hah!). Granted, it was basically unheard of for a child to be left back beyond kindergarten or pre-1A (which is the equivelant of real kindergarten), which I think is a shame because many kids would have benefited from being held over in first or second grade and would have been spared years of struggle.

  10. PJ - Michael thought I wrote it at first.

  11. Prof. Justice,

    As a beginning educator, I appreciate your perspective on the relationship between effort and performance.

    One of my toughest jobs is to teach students that regrettably, life does not always grant a performance that is commensurate with effort. And that in the real world, people care exclusively about performance.

    And it is always a sad day when I can't give the hardest-working student in the class an A.

    I may refer to your post the next time that I am harassed by students with similar complaints.

  12. I find it interesting that the teachers who read this are loving it... though not surprising.