adjusting grades?

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adjusting grades?

Post by Glenski » Fri Jan 17, 2003 2:45 pm

Just curious about other high school teachers who have information on the way their administration gives grades. I have seen cases where a foreign teacher submits grades for a class, but the admininstration says there were too many high or too many low grades, and then made a mathematical "adjustment" so there would be the "right number" in each group.

Anyone else see this?

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Post by Roger » Sat Jan 18, 2003 2:31 pm

You know that we expats are the last ones to be formally told. All we know is usually gathered from anecdotes.
Here are a few from my pile of experiences over several years in China:
In my first school - a college - I taught English literature and English writing. At the end of the first semester, all of us expat teachers were informed that we had to examine our students' English and we "were totally free" in how we were going to do that. One strange proviso: "We want to know the CLASS PERFORMANCE".
In English literature, several students flunked (percentage-wise, it was way below 10% of the total number of students), but to my horror, my results were out before everybody else's. The students who failed all came to "negotiate" their grades, and one guy in particular was rather obnoxious, purusing me home several times late in the evening.
The school upgraded his score anyway, as I later learnt!

In another school, a private one, I taught a bunch of somewhat mischievous students from a school in the vicinity. They were in parallel to other students from different schools. Interestingly, all the students from the same school were misbehaved, while the students in the mixed class were my darlings. They actually asked if I could go on giving them lessons for another term.
I made it clear to the unmotivated ones that they had to earn their grade in an honest way. Towards the end of the summer holidays, exam time was up. I was unexpectedly withdrawn from this class by the head of our school. I learnt from a colleague that our head could not afford to lose customers simply by "offending" the parents of minors enrolled at that school. Needless to say that they all got much better scores than they actually deserved!

In my kindergarten, parents expect our teachers to grade their kids' performance in several subjects. What amazes me even more than the fact that three-year olds to five-year olds are being subjected to a somewhat rigorous English test is the fact that these tests are being given by Chinese teachers. I even suggested that our colleagues would ask us two expat teachers what topics and vocabularies we had covered over the past half a year - but we were ignored.

In sum: Students can always keep their face, no mater whether their performance in the subject is anywhere near the minimum level.
Someone pointed out that teaching and learning in East Asia is a "communitarian" exercise, in which individuals don't hesitate to ask their neighbours for help even during the very exam!

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Post by strider » Mon Jan 20, 2003 1:51 pm

I once spent many hours over a Christmas holiday marking about 200 assessments for a centre for adult training. Later I discovered that many of the grades had been 'adjusted' to show progress.

It made me wonder why they bothered to pay me to do the assessments if they were going to juggle the results anyway! :roll:

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Grade "adjustment"

Post by LarryLatham » Mon Jan 20, 2003 6:29 pm

It's just business, guys!

Believe me, I also know the frustration you feel from a teacher's point of view. :x

But let's look at it from the school's position. Getting students is not always easy, and keeping them certainly is the key to success. Parents have to be satisfied, and often that means the school has to show that the little darlings are making some progress from being there. Parents are otherwise apt to reason: "What am I paying for?" (It would never occur to them their "little darling" is a screw off.) Maybe it's just one of the little necessities that piss us off but must be tolerated.

Probably in most cases, we can be relatively safe in sweating over the grades of only the students we know are trying. Those you know are marking time you can just give an "F" and let the school do the adjustment. Then forget it. Save your sanity.

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any Japan results other than me?

Post by Glenski » Mon Jan 20, 2003 9:51 pm

I agree that we teachers have very little say and should not lose sleep over the adjusted grades. I find it appalling, no matter what country does it.

It DOES say something for the way students' overall progress is reported in the media, though. Isn't it interesting, for instance, how some countries' students have a reputation for being the best at certain subjects, but if people knew how their grades were REALLY generated, would this be a true reflection of their performance? I think not.

I would still like to hear from other teachers in the public or private school system in Japan (where I live) who have experience with such number juggling.

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Post by Roger » Wed Jan 22, 2003 3:54 am


I normally appreciate your well-thought out, balanced posts, but this latest one has given me only cold comfort.
There was an interesting thread on this forum before it changed its format, begun by someone who wanted to know how to deal with students who can't accept an 'F' mark.
Note that we all are expats and so-called "foreign experts". We are here because we have been formally asked to join the labour forces of foreign countries precisely because we are officially accorded the status of being 'experts'.
Yet, at exam time our expertise definitely is put on the back burner. Actually, there would be quite a number of suggestions to be made for more efficient and effective TEFL, but it is precisely because we are "foreigners" that our expertise and our advice are not welcome.
To go back to that thread: Someone replied that Japanese, Korean and Chinese students take a "communitarian" attitude towards acquiring a language, and that therefore you cannot prevent cheating during exams ('cooperation" among students). This may be an interesting light on the subject, but it does not resolve the problem. To me, it is not a cultural issue, it is to do with ethics.
Yes, the parents of our students are often the stumbling block with their exaggerated expectations on their progeny's future. And the schools are unscrupulous enough to promise the heavens and a bright future in exchange for cash. The learners themselves have absolutely no say in this equation, and if one wants to get an honest opinion one should ask the child whether he or she is interested in all these academic subjects with little immediate relevancy to their lives. Frankly, I get more sincere answers from Chinese kids than their parents or school administrators and Chinese teachers get: "I don't like to study..." Who would be surprised about such an answer?
It thus boils down to this:
Asian parents and professionals view everything in terms of pecuniary value, and they don't necessarily act in the kids' best interests by "buying" lessons, be they English, piano, use of computers or mathematics. They do it because in their old-fashioned way of thinking, future has something to do with money, and the more you invest the more you can expect in returns.
It is totally devoid of any other considerations, thus students' motivations are rather narrow.

In China, the simplest truths always need some embellishing. Students are drilled to say "I love my mother land, our leader (current name), and my teacher..." No wonder, they often wax inordinately lyrical when pressed to say why they study English of all subjects: "I want to help my motherland to become a great power!" Or: "I want to improve myself!" Ask a primary school pupil, and if you are an expat, he or she will tell you the truth: "I would rather watch TV or play with my friends!"
Not that I disapprove at all of such statements - they are refreshingly sincere, more sincere than opinions expressed by older students. In fact, I consider such statements as pure truisms! Was I any different when I was their age??? Most emphatically No!

In the end, we are dealing here with the phenomenon of 'keeping appearances', false facades, you know those fake villages of seemingly affluent peasants in tsarist Russia erected for the pleasure of the country's emperor?

We are here not in our capacity as 'experts', but for window-dressing purposes. Or for our employers to have a marketing edge!
I would not even mind to be privy to these devious goings-on if I was given the freedom not to take part in those exams. However, I often get co-opted, or rather coerced into a scam.

We are lending this exploitative system undeserved credibility. How about students who really want to go abroad to study there? What a rude awakening when they get rejected by an embassy! To them, it looks like they are being refused because of their nationality!

At the moment, I am not obliged to test my young learners - my Chinese colleagues do! One of them certainly is incompetent, but all her pupils of 3 to 5 years - yes: the parents expect their preschoolers to bring home a report card! - will get a pass grade. However, at primary school to college levels expats must take part in exams. You have to grade your own students' performance - which I for one feel very strongly is unprofessional! You have to be buddies with them, a quasi-incestuous relationship.
If some of them fail, it is YOUR JOB that is at stake, not their grades! They will be given an extra chance to make up, and that means extra time and work for YOU.
Who wants to waste their spare time to help students pass an exam?
Better not give them an "F' in the first place!

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Grades and related issues

Post by LarryLatham » Wed Jan 22, 2003 6:20 am


I can certainly see that you have a great deal at stake in this issue. Your experiences seem to be somewhat different from mine in Asia, although not so different that I do not comprehend your heartfelt comments here.

My Taiwan may be a little different from your China. My work there was exclusively with adults--people from about 18 to 60. As such, they were in class of their own volition, and I did not have much problem with gross slackers. Of course, there were always students who worked harder than others. Some were very serious about their English for a variety of personal reasons; others were less so. Many were trying to get a better job, but those students usually didn't have much staying power. Some really wanted to go abroad. Some were English teachers. One of the most serious students I can remember was a middle-aged executive secretary whose hobby was English. She went home at the end of her workday, fixed dinner for her family, cleaned the kitchen, and then sat down to study English for her own personal pleasure. She was nearly native-like in her fluency, comprehension and production, both written and verbal. I worked with her one-on-one at her company's expense.

But most of my students were in classes at Taiwan U. I can't remember for sure, but as I recall it, I actually gave out very few "F's." I guess I was in a particularly excellent situation. The university gave me complete control of class content and methodology. They did poll the students each semester and ask them for a written evaluation of the class, and I suppose had they beaten me up too much, I'd have been out of work. But they didn't and I wasn't. Someone in the office would call me near the end of each semester and ask if I would be using the same books and student materials next term or did I want to make a change? Whatever I wanted, the students were told to purchase. No one interfered with my grading.

When I first returned to California, I worked at a private school which served many young Asian adults. They were trying to get into school (college) here and were taking classes to prepare for the TOEFL test. In many cases, these students were the drop-outs from the regular Asian system. They couldn't make it in Asia, but daddy was rich and now they were here, surfing, bleaching their hair, getting their noses pierced, and trying to do as little as possible in the way of work. I did give out failing grades to many of them, and took some heat for it from the administration, which didn't actually 'adjust' the grades, but required that I justify them with written comments. But I left that school when it was bought by Kaplan. I now work at a public adult school. It too is far less satisfying than my work in Taipei. Although I am not required to grade students at this school, the administration is always trying to control the way I teach. They want me to submit lesson plans for "review", and mandate that I teach "life skills" ("competancies", as they call them) as well as English. It is pure politics, and stupid. What irks me the most is that the administrators couldn't care less about the students' development in English language. But they do need to spin everything about what we do in class so as to have the appearance of progress. Students are constantly being "tested", but the standardized tests are a joke and regularly are rigged. I'd guess it is not so unlike what your administrators do in China. It is appearances that count more than actual value to students. It makes me angry.

I can see that you are angry too. It comes across in many of your postings, but it appears that you have good reason for your feelings. A person would have to be a fool to like being touted as a "foreign expert" purely for the purpose of impressing someone. Especially if your expertise, which is genuine, is unheeded and even unwanted. Perhaps I'm just getting old and tired of always being at odds with the system. Maybe that's why my posting above seemed to you like a capitulation.

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My Korean experience with testing

Post by Celeste » Wed Jan 22, 2003 6:50 am

When I taught high school English conversation in Korea from 1997 to 1999, I was required to give tests at mid term and term end. These were always in a very rigid format. If I remember correctly, there were 27 multiple choice questions and 7 fill in the blank questions. Each question was between 1 and 4 points. I taught 15 classes of 50 to 60 students each, so their entire grade was based on the results of these four tests. The test was a listening test that would be broadcast to the entire school at the same time. Constructing these test was very stressful for me and I felt like a real heel when any students failed (as a few inevitably did) because these grades were carved in stone and would follow them throughout their academic careers.

Now I am an ALT at the education centre in *beep* city. I teach teacher seminars which are not evaluated, and I also teach elementary school (which is also unevaluated). I much prefer this.

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let's stick to the point.

Post by Glenski » Fri Jan 24, 2003 9:08 am

If I may interject, people....

Some of you seem to have missed the point of my post. Let me restate it.

Has anyone seen their high school or elementary school or university administration change the grades that the foreign teachers (we) have assigned to the students? Perhaps it wasn't clear that I meant these types of schools, or that I wanted a simple answer, not paragraphs of rhetoric.

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Post by Roger » Sat Jan 25, 2003 2:33 pm

Alright - as concise as I can make it: Of all the students I had to test in two different normal schools (i.e. colleges that produced future English teachers), each and everyone I gave a fail grade (below 60 out of 100) got their score upgradced by the school administration.
The first one was in 1995; I forgot how many students flunked the mid-term exam, but it was somewhere around 10% (in English literature and in Writing). In the second normal school in 2000, 4 students out of 25 scored below 60, and they got a pass grade from the Principal.

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Post by Sarah-in-Korea » Wed Mar 12, 2003 6:09 am

I'm teaching at a foreign language high school here in Korea and we most definately have our grades fixed. For subjective grading like making journal entries and participation grades we had last years grades "adjusted" often to 100%. For exams we specifically do multi-choice so that no students can come and complain about different grades being awarded for the same question, either it's right or wrong. Having said that last year two students said that two answers were possible, and even though nobody else complained we had to make the two answers correct at the "suggestion" of the head English teacher. For the exams we are told to make it so that there is a 90% average. Everything at this school is made to fit a 90% average Bell Curve, I wish my school had been like that! Our school is now the 4th best foreign language high school in Korea, I wonder why? As these fixed grades continue, our schools reputation continues to rise, and entry is becoming more difficult as the quality of applicants increases. It seems that the childrens' performances are improving behind the grades, but nevertheless are still improving as I guess is the aim of the principal.
Overall then, the grades make the school, so the school makes the grades. This works up until university entrance exams are taken, because then it becomes all objective. Basically, the parents want their moneys worth, so the schools deliver it. It's very simple. However, my kids are here from 7.30am till 10.30pm every day, so I'm not going to begrudge them a good grade for English conversation. If they put in some effort (which they do because I wave candy in front of them) then they get a good grade. I can't change it, and won't be here long enough to anyway, that's the Korean parents' job.
A Happy New Teaching Year to you all,

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Adjusting grades

Post by LarryLatham » Wed Mar 12, 2003 3:43 pm

Sigh, :(

Perhaps because I have a business background, and a continuing interest in business as well as in teaching English, all of this (here in this particular forum) reminds me so much of Enron, Tyco, and Arthur Anderson. Maybe it's just human nature. Maybe our society places such an emphasis on competition that individuals and schools are more or less "forced" to adopt a 'win at all costs' attitude, else they feel in danger of "failing." How discouraging.

But I must say that Sarah-in-Korea seems to have made the most of the situation, and maybe I, and even some others out there, can learn a good lesson from her. She acknowledges the condition, but finds that students profit from her instruction anyway. I believe she's right. Since we teachers will most likely not be able to change the systems in which we teach, what we can do is be the best teachers we can be, as Sarah seems to be doing. Her students are fortunate to have her (her students' dentists may also be fortunate to have her! :) )!

Good luck to all.

Larry Latham

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Post by Sarah-in-Korea » Thu Mar 13, 2003 3:50 am

Thanks Larry, your kind words are much appreciated ( and in full, grammatically correct sentences which I seldom hear here!).

On a different note, a while back Glenski wrote:
It DOES say something for the way students' overall progress is reported in the media, though. Isn't it interesting, for instance, how some countries' students have a reputation for being the best at certain subjects, but if people knew how their grades were REALLY generated, would this be a true reflection of their performance?

I know it's off the topic but I think that's quite interesting. I know where I'm from we always expect "Asian" students to be good at maths and physics. Of course it's completely generalising, but it does stem from an element of truth ;) and there tended to be more "Asian" students in my math class at university than in my anthropology class. However, why I mention it is because I think that Asian students aren't necessarily better at these subjects only, but would kick butt in ALL subjects at home if it weren't for the language difficulties. The reality is that here the kids work an infinate number of times harder than we did at home, so deserve some credit for how much stress they go through. And although I am constantly amazed that they only ever memorize and don't write "essays" where they can "think for themselves", having now taught in a school I can't imagine being a teacher regularly marking 50 assignments.
Since Asian students have started to increase in proportion at my local university the standard has increased in many core areas as they generally study harder than many of the locals. (In the more liberal kinds of subjects the standard is decreasing though as the lecturer has to accomodate the language deficiencies). So, while grades here in Asia may appear to be fixed for everything, the higher adjusted grade is probably closer to the truth when compared to an international average. I'm not saying that we didn't work hard at school (I felt suitably hard-done by!) or that kids who slack-off should be awarded better grades by their school, just that the high national averages may actually be quite a good reflection of their abilities. Of course these abilities are gained at the sacrifice of most other aspects of childhood, like sports, art, and other forms of individual expression.

Anyway, that's just a thought. Basically, I know which country I would rather be a kid in, and I'm glad I was.


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It happens in the U.S., too

Post by EH » Wed Apr 23, 2003 5:02 pm

I currently teach at various public and private schools in New Jersey, U.S.A. My progress report marks have never been questioned, thank goodness. However, there is one public elementary school principal I work with who *has* changed the grades submitted by the certified, tenured teachers at her school. :(

This sort of counterproductive, insulting behavior does not just happen in private language academies in Asia...

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Post by Glenski » Thu Apr 24, 2003 9:04 pm

You can't be more wrong. The examples I cited in the first post happened at private high schools in Japan.

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