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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Assessment in a Time of Cholera (Updated)

Larry Cunningham (St. John's) discusses assessments in the current situation--he raises a number of questions, then proposes a framework for answering them. He rejects the suggestion making the Twitter rounds (which some of my colleagues have offered) that we cancel the semester and give everyone a "pass" in the course; we have "solutions—albeit imperfect ones—to the challenges we are facing. Giving up the semester should be a last resort."

I have been thinking about the grading questions this weekend because of the ongoing interim assessments I do throughout Civ Pro.

I distributed the preliminary exam (a one-week take-home of the type of short-answer questions on the final) last week; it is due Thursday. I have been working with our registrar to devise a mechanism for submitting electronically (I have 130 students in two sections, so email is not an option). My plan had been to print them out so I can grade on paper, but FIU moved us off campus effective Monday afternoon. So I will get electronic copies of all the papers and will try to grade on the computer, using the Comments feature to make comments and assign a number. I expect it to take longer than it would on paper, just because I read and can type comments and remarks more slowly than if I am working through it with a pencil and paper.

I expect to assign at least three essays in the three weeks we are guaranteed off campus (an essay is on one topic from the class, assigned to a random group of 6-7 students). The smaller numbers mean they can be emailed to the register, send to me, and graded electronically.

The question is the final exam, which ordinarily a four-hour in-class, open-materials, short-answer test. I guess I will make it take-home. I had been thinking of doing that before this hit, to get less-rushed and (hopefully) better-written answers. The question, as Larry raises, is the "integrity" of the exam. I have heard enough rumors of students cheating to fear take-home exams as a matter of course. But I am not sure there is an alternative.

Submitting grades will not be a problem (something Larry raises) will not be a problem, because we have been doing that through the school's web platform for years.

Read Larry's post; he goes deep into macro issues such as what to do about the curve, scholarship retention, rankings, etc. And looming over it all is who decides--how much is for individual faculty for individual classes, how much for faculty as a governing body, and how much for the administration.

Update: The argument against canceling the semester--in general and for law schools in particular--is content dissemination: Students need to know stuff for other classes in the remainder of the curriculum and for the Bar. And that is a good argument.  Larry's post shows that assessment remains tricky, even if content dissemination can go online. So I wonder if the answer is to keep classes through the end of the semester, but cancel final exams and projects and give everyone a "Pass."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 15, 2020 at 08:19 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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