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Gaming The Curve: Students Sabotage Prof’s Final Exam

This is a little troubling–but also kind of ingenious.

Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Frölich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, “that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Frölich.

This approach, Frölich said, is the “most predictable and consistent way” of comparing students’ work to their peers’, and it worked well.

At least it did until the end of the fall term at Hopkins, that is.

As the semester ended in December, students in Frölich’s “Intermediate Programming”, “Computer Science Fundamentals,” and “Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers” classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Frölich’s curve, meant every student received an A.

“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Frölich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up…. Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though.

Yes, the professor changed his grading policy following this episode.

Read the full story at Inside Higher Ed.

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Add to the Discussion

  • Zsuzsa

    Interesting that the students actually managed to pull it off. I’ve seen arguments that suggest things like this before, but the problem is that someone always “cheats” and actually takes the test and tries to do well. And once one person does, of course, then everybody has to.

  • zolt

    Technically he did not have to give them all A’s because zero divided by zero is an indeterminate number.

    • Victoria

      Why would you divide by 0? You would divide the number of points scored by the total possible points; for example if there were 50 possible points on the test, you would divide 0 by 50. So the students were right, it’s a legitimate loophole

  • grampa

    For all the top training these “professors” have and their bright ideas they dream up they are still outnumbered intellectually. The thought processes now in collage is that they as the intellectual elite will level the playing fields so that the actual hard working don’t have the advantage. With this sort of teaching is it any wonder we are 35 in education in the world. We need to turn out people who can think for themselves not bend with the direction of the hive.
    God bless America