Insufficiently Random

The lonely musings of a loosely connected software developer.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Since When Is 93 Failing?

So I am taking a required graduate course this semester at RPI.

The course must be passed with a score of 94 or higher (out of 100) to have it count as having met one of the core requirements for a doctorate degree.

The syllabus of the course specifically states that a score of 90 or higher in the class will be marked as an 'A' (the highest grade one can earn in a course at RPI) to the registrar, and thus on your transcript.

So therefore I can earn a 93 in the class, have an 'A' (remember, this being the highest grade available at RPI) appear on my transcript, BUT I FLUNKED THE REQUIREMENT. No doctorate degree for me. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. But collect an 'A' on your transcript.

Of course the syllabus also defines scores above 80 and below 90 as a 'B', lower scores as a 'C', etc. So obviously the course is not pass/fail. But it might as well be. And nobody can tell by looking at my transcript whether or not I received a 93 or a 94 in the course. Yet a 93 means I can't get a doctorate while a 94 means I can continue working on one.

Clearly not all values of 'A' are equal, just as not all values of 1 are equal, such as in 1 + 1 = 3. Wow, I guess this professor at RPI just proved that 1 + 1 = 3 since 'A' does not equal passing. Or something like that. Its a little too late in the day to be trying to construct such a proof. But I do think it is horribly unfair.

RPI should just relabel this class as pass/fail for doctorate students. You either earn the grade required to pass the course or you don't; giving out 'A's while failing the student is just plain wrong. Its sort of like firing people while giving them a huge raise at the same time. "Hey Bob! Good news! You are getting a raise of $30,000/year! Oh, and your fired." Uhm, thanks.

What's worse is its not very hard to get a 94 in this class. Make a small mistake on an exam (like forgetting to explicitly return from a subroutine when it seems obvious to you at the time you wrote the pseudo-code that everyone would think it obvious you would return at that point, so you just put a paragraph break and continue on) and you automatically lose a couple of points on your final grade. Make similiar small mistakes on two (of five) homework assignments and you are already looking at a 92 or 93, tops. So at this point in the semester (with 4 weeks left to go) I'm already failing the class, but I'm sure I'll get an 'A' on my transcript. Go RPI!


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