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Sunday, May 5, 2013

JCP and Me: More Thoughts on Innumeracy

If you've been reading the finance pages recently, you will have noticed that JC Penney fired its snazzy ex-Apple CEO and--as Walmart says--rolled back his everyday low price policies. In fact, it's JC Penney once again, not jcp. According to the various post-mortems, customers LIKE sales, even if the sales are on artificially inflated prices. Here's an actual example from my own single jcp experience. I LIKE the idea of everyday low prices. So I bought a basic tank top, the black stretchy kind. At jcp, it was $5 or $6 dollars. I love it! Now, it is $12. Oh, but I got a coupon for 20% off. Thanks.

I wrote a few days ago about the psychology of grading points. I am going to try the 1000 point system next semester, whereby everything will be worth 10x more than now and be divided by 10 in the grand finale. Interestingly, one commenter suggested that the 1000 point system enables the students to get more points. Perhaps that's true, since there are more fine points in between. However, it works the other way too, whereby students can get fewer points. For instance, I have 20 one-point assignments. I give the students points for doing them. They are very short assignments, designed to keep students doing SOMETHING in between more major assignments.

Everyone can get 20/20--even if English is not a strong subject. That is a big chunk of a grade and can compensate for poor performance on projects and exams. I do have a small--5 point--bonus for "quality," where I look at three assignments randomly and give 1-5 points. But watch what happens when it's a 10-point assignment. While students may be more excited about an assignment that's "worth more," I would guess that I will see fewer 20/20 than I do currently. I will eliminate the extra step for me of assigning quality points. I would guess that most students will get between 6 and 8 points out of 10 under the new system. So it's more likely that students will see 70 out of 100 than 10/10. That's what happens when most people hover around the middle rather than cluster at the top.

The funny thing: when students have to divide by 10, I notice that most whip out their phones to do the calculation. That's the innumeracy I worry about.


Remy @MLISunderstanding said...

Interesting! If expanding the total number of points suddenly means you're grading (or able to grade) for quality instead of just assigning a Pass/Fail (the 1-point or 5-point assignments I've seen are usually used for that; either you get 0 or full marks), then I could see that being a concern for the students.

In my program, we're mostly clustered at the top -- largely due to the strict grading scale, I imagine: the borderline between A- and B+ is 94%, and the lowest you can get to pass a core class is 88%. I fight for all of the fractional points because of that.

Duchesse said...

Wondering if you define "quality" for the students. My own preference would be that 'quality' is a criterion applied to every essay assignment, but I can see how that could create so much more work.

Last summer I took an expensive summer program and not one written assignment was returned. (We wondered if they were even read.) The mature students in the class, many of whom were teachers themselves, complained bitterly. The college-age students accepted it.

In programs were writing skills are crucial, at least one major assignment should be returned with detailed comments and then re-written, or the next assignment should reflect the feedback.

Duchesse said...

I meant to say, "*and* the next assignment should..."

Shelley said...

For me, this in-between tests / projects work was the main difference between graduate and under-graduate work. Working on my masters I had to keep my own nose to the grindstone so that I didn't bomb at the end. In my under-graduate classes there were loads of little papers to write and I did get feedback, which helped build my confidence for the big tests. Using a calculator to divide by 10 is worrying. There must be something else going on in those brains besides math skills.

I like consistent low prices rather than sales. If I want something I can't find at thrift stores, I will go to the department store with reasonable quality and prices and pick it up. Sales imply that I have to run along on their schedule; low prices mean I can decide when I am going to shop there. I prefer the illusion that I'm in control.

Frugal Scholar said...

@remy--88% to pass!!! I'm just trying to get my undergrads to work through the semester.

@Duchesse--Your comments made me so sad. I always think teachers are so honorable. Of course, you should expect feedback--and it doesn't even have to be an expensive program.

@Shelley--Even my grad students need some incentive.