Sunday, 16 January 2005

Bad essay gets bad grade, news at 11

Everyone’s favorite Moonie-owned newspaper, the Washington Times, attempts to make a cause celebré out of a student who got a bad grade on an American government exam at Foothill College, a community college in the Bay Area. (þ: Wizbang)

Steven Taylor and James Joyner have offered their grades of the purported essay in question, and—like them—I’d be hard pressed to give a non-failing grade to the essay, even leaving aside the weak grammar; it fails to meaningfully respond to the question as written, instead going off on a tangent to discuss the contemporary constitution and its effects. That the essay may be a heartwarming account by a hard-working immigrant doesn’t redeem that failing; indeed, if the question had asked for such an essay, I’d be inclined to give the essay a significantly better grade, though probably not an A. As it stands, I’d probably give it something on the order of 12–13 points out of 20.

All that said, if the professor did indeed tell the student he needed “psychological treatment” (as the Times account alleges), the prof ought to be disciplined. There’s more from the student’s side here (þ: PoliBlog).


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You and the other professors have this one right: he didn’t answer the question and used atrocious grammar. I might have been inclined to give him a C if he had answered the question, but he wasn’t even close.


If the question had called for the sort of essay he wrote—e.g., if it had asked whether the implementation of the Constitution today reflects the Beardian “economic interests” interpretation of the framers’ actions—I’d probably give him a low B; as he’s a non-native speaker, I’d probably be more lenient on the grammar (even kids with good TOEFL scores have trouble with idiomatic English). But even a well-written essay that doesn’t answer the posed question would probably, at best, get a low C, if I were in a really good mood.

We’ll see how this one shakes out.

[Permalink] 3. flaime wrote @ Tue, 18 Jan 2005, 10:23 am CST:

I’ve noticed that noone has any indication other than the student’s complaint as to the actions the professor took. I wonder if the professor’s side of the story is anywhere.


I would have been ashamed to hand in work of such poor quality at University, let alone to publish it for the world to see. If the student's descriptions of the Professor's behaviour are accurate, the Professor is certainly deserving of censure.

Even if the essay title had been related in any way to the essay that was written, it's still a poor essay deserving few marks. It contains no argument at all - it's a tissue of well-intentioned but unsupported assertions interleaved with what are frankly irrelevant quotations. Plus, it's a page and a half long, and looks like it must have taken all of about half an hour to write.

For a lower-middle ability high school student, this might scrape a pass as the answer to a question that asked the writer to discuss the modern effects of the US constitution. For a College essay, even if it had had a relevant title, it's still a fail.

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