Grade Fixing (NYT article, 8/1/07)


Moderator emeritus
Original poster
Jan 9, 2004
Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Link to NYTimes (free reg required)

Samuel G. Freedman said:
Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course.

That student, Indira Fernandez, had missed dozens of class sessions and failed to turn in numerous homework assignments, according to Mr. Lampros’s meticulous records, which he provided to The New York Times. She had not even shown up to take the final exam. She did, however, attend the senior prom.

Through the intercession of Ms. Geiger, Miss Fernandez was permitted to retake the final after receiving two days of personal tutoring from another math teacher. Even though her score of 66 still left her with a failing grade for the course as a whole by Mr. Lampros’s calculations, Ms. Geiger gave the student a passing mark, which allowed her to graduate.
There are many stories like this frequently in the news, but this one seems remarkable for the high level of detail that the teacher kept, the teacher's immediate and firm response, and some of the particular stipulations made by the principal directing teachers on grading policies.

One discussion question: for those of you who have taught, have you ever experienced grading pressure?

I have taught undergraduate courses twice (once at the University of Michigan and once at the University of Florida). I never experienced grading pressure outside of an initial pro forma discussion of approximate expected grade distributions, which I consider appropriate at the University level. In hindsight I allowed too much extra credit in one of my classes and unintentionally inflated grades more than I wished, but I abided by my mistake and awarded the higher grades. I did experience one cheating situation, although notably the student was caught by a third party after the conclusion of the course. The University conducted a student-led honor council evaluation that appeared to be fair, but I think they declined to substantially penalize the student despite pretty good evidence. In any event, I also don't consider that undue interference in my independent grading responsibilities as an instructor. I've never taught below the Junior / Senior undergrad level.


macrumors 6502
Sep 19, 2002
Auburn, AL
I just got done teaching my first unsupervised class. We don't have too much pressure to give good or bad grades, but at the same time, we're not given too much freedom in terms of boosting a hard-working student up that extra point or two. I've got one student who just screwed up on one section on the final, and it's going to result in them getting a B, and whilst I think they deserves the A, I just don't have anyway of giving it to them.

I did catch one student cheating, and for compositions we have a somewhat lax policy. Depending on the seriousness of the first offense, we sometimes let students redo their composition, but only alot them one hour, and they don't get to rewrite based on our comments. (I teach a second-semester Spanish course). The same student was caught on the second one, and he received a zero. We don't bother with the student judicial affairs, we figure the zero is punishment enough unless it becomes a major problem (cheating on a test, etc).

Also had another student who was expecting to pass and graduate at the end of my class (final was yesterday, graduation is Saturday). They came to my class 9 out of 23 times and made progressively lower on each exam, bottoming out with a 35/100 on the final.

We have in the past had a lot of students who will try to jump the standard hierarchy, and not just go to our coördinator, but all the way to the department head (who doesn't speak Spanish, he's a German professor) or to the dean. Because in these cases we ended up deciding things in favour of the student, we now have a new policies in place to make it hard for students to do that to us (including signing a contract with each progress report saying they agree with all the grades, or they contest, after which they have two days to resolve it or they implicitely accept. It's so high schoolish but it's become a necessity for us). We have extremely strict attendance policies in the fall/spring, so athletes really can't take our classes since they'd miss too many classes and get an FA. That might help us in terms of not having much pressure.


Moderator emeritus
Original poster
Jan 9, 2004
Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Because in these cases we ended up deciding things in favour of the student, we now have a new policies in place to make it hard for students to do that to us
Wow, that's quite interesting! I guess it can be a bit high-schoolish, but I also think open lines of clear communication like that are better than systems where there's a lot of assumption. Perhaps one day as it all gets automated using the web, it won't even be that complicated or onerous.

Funny story regarding lame excuses: I had this student who had not turned in a paper at all around mid-term, had taken no action during class or after class about it, or in response to grades posted online. A few weeks later, she claimed she had e-mailed me the paper. I made it clear I had never received it (and I had also previously stated I would not accept them via e-mail unless previously arranged, and even then it was the student's responsibility until I had sent them a confirmation e-mail saying I actually had the paper... it was a busy term with clinical work, and I had more than 70 students).

So... she's whining and crying at the end of class. I ask her to go into her webmail (what she used) and find the sent item and forward it back to me again, and then I'd accept it. She didn't have the technical finesse to do this, so we logged into a workstation in the room right there. Of course there's no sent item in the sent box... e-mail from the same time period, but none to me. And then of course she conveniently wrote the paper on a campus computer, didn't save it anywhere permanent (flash drive, network drive, etc), and no longer even had the paper. Could barely even enunciate what the paper had been about to begin with in any convincing way. Whatever! :rolleyes:

Rodimus Prime

macrumors G4
Oct 9, 2006
Just wow.
Their are times Teacher I believe should be allowed to bend the rules in their grading but not in this case.

I have had teachers bumb me up a letter grade over what my average was because I did show improvement in the through out the semester but I knew I was only a few points shy of going up to a B. The prof also knew how hard I worked.

I know a prof would would pass a graduating senor in his class on the condition that he did work hard and show up to class every day he would pass them with a C. Also it had to be at least you 2nd time in the course.

I think in college prof should be allowed a little room to bump some one up or down a letter grade depending on how the student acted and worked.


macrumors 68000
Nov 11, 2004
While I am just a TA , I think I can add to this.

At my school there is an official unwritten policy that in certain departments the first year courses have a 40% fail rate. this is to compensate for the overadmissions in the first year so by the time they take third and fourth year classes there is enough room for them.

I am open to any of the students asking me why I gave them the mark and if they wish I will remark it. I do warn them that the second mark will be the one they get as the official one. So it can go up or down. Its about 50/50.

I also do bias my grading - I am more lenient to the adult student with 2 kids and fulltime job than the 19 year old living at home with the parents paying tuition. So there might be a grade difference between them for exact same work. But who put in the more effort?

In the case outlined in the newspaper article I would have failed the student. You can still graduate in most places with out math.