Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Special consideration

I'm marking exam scripts this week, and for the first time it strikes me that I'm actually going to have to do something about all the special consideration requests that I've been putting in my binder with a mental, "Poor kid. Of course I'll bear this in mind."

Note that these are exams with clear right and wrong answers: think maths rather than English literature. So does special consideration mean I should give them partial credit for wrong answers? Should I mark normally and then scale their grade up a bit? If so, what reasons deserve what degree of scaling? Does the student who miscarried last week get bumped up higher than the one whose uncle just died, or vice versa? Does the fact that a student who gets panic attacks stopped writing in the middle of a sentence halfway through and never finished the exam mean she was panicking? And if so, do I give her partial credit for questions she never even attempted? Does a minor car accident an hour before the exam trump finding your budgie dead in its cage?

Assuming university systems in other places have something similar to "special consideration" requests, what do you do about them?


Miss M. said...

Bearing in mind that I've never been in this position, thus my expertise on the matter are extremely limited (read: nonexistant) I guess it'd have to be scaling. With clear right/wrong answers, I'd say mark as is and then scale the final mark.

As for what extent - depends on how much their particular situation has limited their study. If it's such a knowledge based exam then particularly the few days beforehand would have been the necessary study period. So, if their situation has affected the lead up to the exam (ie the miscarriage - poor dear!) then it's probably seriously compromised their ability to prepare. Whereas putting in a request for consideration about something which happened the morning of - well, if they weren't already prepared for the exam then they were most likely relying on last minute cramming before the doors opened.

As for specifically what degree... Not really sure. If it looks like they were headed in the right direction for most of the paper, but might have forgotten details here and there I'd generally give the benefit of the doubt. If it looks like their bullshitting their way through it perhaps not so much. But then, you probably knew that already.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

The situations you describe are different -- the one with panic attacks has a chronic problem, maybe test anxiety? That would be handled with our "accessibility" office, just like documented learning disabilities.... So, they do the testing under particular conditions that help the student perform their best.

As for the other -- non chronic -- issues, I don't give special consideration, but I do allow a make-up exam for a regular exam during the semester.

I'd guess you are marking final exams, no? That gets more complicated -- for those with immediate tragedies, if it was the case that they couldn't make it to the exam itself, I'd require a make-up within a day or two. For the more serious problem (miscarriage and the like) I'd offer an 'incomplete', to be made-up in the first month of the next semester... or, if it is during summer break, within the next two months.

Anonymous said...

philosopherp said what I was thinking, which is that I've always been told exactly how to accommodate the student: specific testing conditions, longer testing period, a designated note-taker. After that, I don't much think about it. Oh, except for english as a second language students on writing assignments. I cut them some slack.

hypoglycemiagirl said...

you should take a look at some of the archives of a blog called Rate your students, you may find some answers there...

twirly said...

My feeling is you grade everyone on the same scale and at the end if someone with special circumstances is on the bubble they get bumped up.

IPF is right though - in the US at least because of the Americans with Disabilities act she would have her case and diagnosis n file with the correct office and be given special accommodations for taking exams to suit her needs - extra time - if something exists there you should suggest she might look into it for future semesters

canuck_grad said...

Also at my university in Canada, the test anxiety person would be told she'd get no special considerations unless she went and registered with the special needs office, and then they handle everything.

For the other cases, one prof I've TAed with for a while often does something like look at how the final exam grade compares with the other test grades (actually, he's a stats prof and he usually creates a regression equation to predict final exam grade from test grades based on the whole class, then applies that to the student to see what we'd predict their final exam grade to be lol). Anyway, if the final exam grade is a lot lower than would be expected, he'll scale the final mark up a bit.

Psycgirl said...

How do you have so many of these? I rarely get more than 3 in a large class!

Lucy said...

I'd probably do something like what the others have said. I'd mark as normal and then adjust their overall result for the course, rather than the exam result, if they were on a border and/or if the exam mark was lower than their other marks.

I was once a supervisor for a student who needed special exam conditions (or at least, I was going to be, but he never showed up, so I got paid for sitting there reading my book), so there are probably policies in place for people like the panicking student (or at least, they're not a purely North American thing).

At my uni, we were told not to take the test if there was something that needed special consideration. Instead, we were supposed to wait and do the special exam at the start of the next semester. If we took the exam, we'd be marked on how we did, regardless of the circumstances. I'm not sure if they ever denied anyone the opportunity to do the make up exam because their excuse wasn't good enough, but I'm not sure I would've risked it for a dead budgie.

Zie said...

At my university we need a justification for why we change any marks when a student applies for special consideration. In general, we initially mark the exam as per normal ignoring the special consideration request. Then, when we have all the marks for the subject together, we look for patterns. For example, if all their within semester assessments were As and they were only 1 or 2 marks off an A in their exam we might bump them up to an A overall. Another common method is to look at other students who achieved similar marks on the within semester assessments and see what they received in the final exam - if it was more than the person applying for special consideration achieved we bump up the special consideration exam marks to make them equivalent (not normally any more than a grade though!).I hope that helps

StyleyGeek said...

I think looking for an unexpectedly low result and then maybe adjusting sounds like a good plan.

Miss M, the exam shouldn't have required cramming. It was open book, and they were tested on how well they could apply what they had learned to new data. So even losing a day or two of the study period shouldn't have been too much of a problem. The concern is whether something like a car accident on the way to the exam or a family death the week before makes you unable to concentrate DURING the exam.

The panic attack student was registered with the disabilities people and sat her exam under special conditions, but she submitted not only the request for special exam conditions, but also a request for special consideration.

Students get various options here as to what they can request. They can request delayed assessment (until they are better, or over whatever event upset them), but then they may not be able to graduate on time. They can instead submit these special consideration forms, which basically just means, "I may not be at my best, have mercy on me." There are no real guidelines on how to take these into account.

And unlike ITPF, I don't have the choice of "not allowing special consideration": I think I am expected to at least see whether I need to take the circumstances into account.

Which brings me back to checking against the students' other scores. I wish I had canuck_grad's prof's algorithm!

As for why I get so many of these: it was a course with 89 students (although not all turned up to the exam), and I had six requests for special consideration. Is that really unexpectedly high? (I haven't had to deal with these before, as tutoring here usually excludes final exam marking).

Badaunt said...

I generally give them an extra assignment. Of course, then you have to mark the assignment...

The only time I made an exception was when one of my students who had missed way too many classes turned up mid-semester and told me that he'd been absent because his mother had been murdered and he'd been 'at the police station.'

(I am ashamed to say that after my initial reaction - 'Oh, my god!' my next thought was a quickly suppressed, 'That's a new one!')

I passed him. Asking for extra homework seemed the wrong thing to do under such circumstances, especially since I generally get students to write something about why they missed class so often. And especially ESPECIALLY since he was a suspect, according to the news reports I dug up later.

(It turned out to be his mother's boyfriend. Or at least that was who confessed, not necessarily an accurate indication of guilt in the Japanese system...)