EppsNet Archive: Grades

Teaching Computer Science: Extra Credit

15 Apr 2015 /

I wish I got a dollar for every time a student asks, “Can I get extra credit for [insert action for which it makes no sense to give extra credit]?”

Today in class we did a difficult programming exercise. It wasn’t graded but I asked everyone to turn it in so I could evaluate the difficulty of the assignment.

“Can we get extra credit for turning it in?” a student asked me.

“How does it make sense to give extra credit for turning it in? Everyone is turning it in.”

“It raises everyone’s grades,” he said. “Like a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Killed by Prayer

30 Jun 2014 /

Thumbs down

A woman on Facebook a couple of days ago asked everyone to pray for her seriously ill father. Today, he died. Go figure.

Had he made a miraculous recovery, we would have said that prayer “worked” . . . but what does it mean when you pray for someone to live and he dies?

I had a college professor . . . his exams were graded by a graduate assistant, but students had the option of appealing grades to the professor. That’s not unusual, but most professors will either raise the grade or leave it as is. This guy, however, would either raise the grade, leave it as is or lower it. Risky!

Maybe God operates on the same principle. When you put someone’s fate in his hands, he retains the option of saying “toodle-oo.”

Hamlet Backwards

27 Jan 2011 /

This semester’s AP English final is on Beloved, a depressing novel enjoyed by no one.

“I need an 87 on the final to get an A in the class,” my boy says.

“That sounds manageable,” I say.

“Not really. I knew Hamlet backward and forward and on that test I got an 86.”

“What is Hamlet backward? It’s Telmah, right?”

How to Get an A in Hell

30 Jan 2010 /

At Northwood High School, Honors Euro Lit is known by its acronym — HEL (pronounced hell) — and widely regarded as the hardest class at the school.

Sign of summer

In order to get an A in the class for the first semester, my son needed a very high score — around a 98 — on the final exam, didn’t get it, and finished with a semester grade of 89.27 — a high B.

If he’d had at least an 89.5, the teacher would have rounded it up to an A. So out of 1,000+ possible points over the course of the semester, an 89.27 means you missed an A by only three or four points.

I’ve always encouraged the boy to be proactive with his teachers. Some people call this “sucking up” but I’ve been a teacher myself and I can tell you that teachers like students who are engaged and make an extra effort. When there’s a close call on a grade, those students may get the benefit of the doubt.

Being a public school teacher is unrewarding in many ways. You’re not going to get rich, for one thing. And you’re not going to be held in high esteem because the conventional wisdom is that public education in America is a disaster.

The only real attraction of the job is that every day you have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. And even there, in most cases you will fail.

“Make sure the teachers know that you want to do well in their class,” I tell my kid. “Ask them what you need to do and they’ll tell you. They want to help you.”

After his final score was posted in HEL, he went in after school to talk to the teacher about his grade. They went over some previous assignments and exams, including a Macbeth exam where the teacher found a question that he felt he “didn’t teach very well.” He gave the boy four points back on the question, which gave him an 89.55 for the semester. That’s an A.

Father knows best, suckas! Academic success is not (just) about academics.

I Got an A on My Report Card

11 Nov 2009 /

Peanuts comic

The Triumph of My Pedagogical Method

25 Jun 2009 /

Northwood High School grades came out today. My son got A’s in all of his classes. He won’t know that himself until Saturday night because he’s currently incommunicado at Children of the Corn camp, but the honors classes at Northwood are anything but a slam-dunk A, even for the best students, so we’re very proud of him.

Boy doing math problems

He’s become a lot better at managing his time and plotting out academic strategies, down to the level of selecting the right background music for study sessions. He’s still not as proactive with his teachers as I’d like him to be, but behavioral modification takes time. You can offer ideas, but until an idea and the kid’s readiness for the idea converge, nothing happens. Years may go by.

For example, he just recently started setting up more study groups with his friends, a mere four years after I first mentioned to him that study groups were a big help to me when I was in school.


I’m considered the parent in charge of academics at our house. I used to spend quite a bit of time with the boy up through junior high school but now that he’s in 10th grade, I don’t really do much. Or actually, I do the same thing I’ve always done, which is to say, ‘Let me know if you need any help with that,” the difference being that he rarely asks for help anymore.

My wife has never been totally on board with my approach. “You can’t just say, ‘Let me know if you need any help,'” she says. “You have to help him.”

I say, “You’ve probably already noticed this yourself, but if a person doesn’t want your help, you’re not going to be successful in helping him, no matter how smart or wonderful you are.”

“Blah blah blah,” she says.

I’m scoring this semester’s report card as a triumph for my pedagogical method.

How to Get an A in Honors History

31 Jan 2009 /

First semester grades are out. My son missed getting straight A’s by a point and a half. He had an 88.5 in honors history.

He got an A in honors English with a 90.14.


The honors classes at Northwood are very demanding. Even the best students get low A’s and high B’s.

Three kids got A’s in the history class. The high score was a 91.1.

“The 91.1 is Ted,” my son says. We know Ted. “Ted is history. He’s bad at math, average in English, but he knows everything there is to know about history.”

“Make sure you touch base with the history teacher,” I say. “Let him know you’re really doing your best for him and ask him what you need to do to get that extra point and a half this semester. He’ll tell you.”

“He’ll say, ‘Study hard, get a good score on all the assignments, blah blah blah.'”

“You’re a pessimist,” I say. (I was going to say “fatalist” but I’m not sure he knows what that means.) “I’ve been a teacher myself and I can tell you that teachers like students who are engaged and make an extra effort. They want you to do well and if there’s a close call on a grade, they may give you the benefit of the doubt. So be proactive with this guy.”

His mom chimes in at this point: “That’s right,” she says.

“I hate that,” the boy replies. “You don’t even know what he’s talking about. You just say ‘That’s right.'”

I say, “She doesn’t have to know what I’m talking about to know it’s right. If my lips are moving, it’s right.”