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I want to know what my current grade in a particular class is. The professor says she refuses to tell us our grades. The syllabus mentions the same policy.

Is this normal? What should I do?

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    This is sufficiently odd that I've never heard of such a policy. Have you checked the syllabus to see exactly how the policy is stated? This is reasonable if it is of the form "I am not going to calculate a provisional grade for you - you have all the grades you've gotten on assignments and can calculate it on your own". Some courses also don't even have provisional grades, only the grade from the final exam. We'll need to know a bit more to be able to advise you. – BrianH Feb 10 at 21:25
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    Some universities require that the grading policies be laid out in advance (e.g.: 40% final, 30% homework, 30% project). If you actually have the assignments you've done, you might be able to compute this for yourself. Other universities have no such regulation, in which case you might be stuck. – Peter Shor Feb 10 at 21:43
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    @NateEldredge that would be really annoying to me. Undergraduates should not need help checking their arithmetic. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 10 at 22:28
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    @solarmike I view this as a question about pedagogical technique, which is definitely on topic. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 10 at 22:30
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    @SolarMike I do not see why you think only one professor has this in their syllabus. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 10 at 22:33
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I've been that professor several times. Much to my own chagrin, there often is no such thing as "the current grade". On a typical day during a typical semester, there are scores for homeworks, quizzes, midterms and whatever other assessments have been completed so far, and there is a formula in the syllabus that computes a "final score" from all the assessment scores, but:

  1. the formula assumes all scores to be known, not just the first few. Extrapolating is not trivial, particularly if the rules include things like "the lowest homework score will be dropped" or "later midterms will be weighted more" or "the first homework will be dropped if the next ones show improvement".

  2. the cutoffs for the grades are rarely decided upon in advance; they often are determined by looking through students's work (the final midterm or exam is particularly good for that, being fresh in the lecturer's mind) and clustering students into categories (e.g., if you see someone doing really good work, you put that student into the A-cluster, so the cutoff for A will be no higher than their score). Some lecturers also curve based on pre-determined ratios (something I avoid, but I've heard of lecturers forced to do this by the admininstration), but again it is impossible to predict the final relative position of a student just based on their current status, as some students improve heavily during the semester.

So computing a "current grade" is a nontrivial exercise in forecasting -- and a thankless one, as the reward curve is biased to the negative (getting students' grades right will net you some thanks; getting them wrong will cause trouble all the way up to disciplinary action). Teaching is hard enough without it.

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    getting them wrong will cause trouble all the way up to disciplinary action Come on, really? You don't think both the students and the administration understand that having an A average with 50% of the work completed doesn't necessarily mean that the student will pass the course? And you really can't place even a reasonable upper bound on where the A cutoff will fall? – Elizabeth Henning Feb 11 at 4:42
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    @ElizabethHenning: Understand perhaps, but that doesn't mean they would react well, particularly if they can blame me for basing my estimate on guesswork (and guesswork will be part of the estimation process, due to the cutoffs being undecided). As for upper bounds on A cutoffs, I usually can tell that some students will have As -- but these are normally not the ones who would ask me where they stand. The much more common question is C cutoffs, and these depend upon lots of things. – darij grinberg Feb 11 at 4:52
  • "...getting them wrong will cause trouble..." One could give a range (confidence interval) for the current grade instead of a single value. – Trilarion Feb 11 at 8:57
  • Some students have learned particularly aggressive negotiation skills from certain types of parents that make them extremely hard to deal with. Think of the worst type of customer, then throw in the idea that your entire future now hinges on this grade, and you will get a glimpse of what said potential student will be like. It is best to avoid it if you can. – Nelson Feb 11 at 9:44
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There may be an actual reason for the policy. In particular your professor may take more into consideration than can be captured in any intermediate "average". For an example of what can happen, I once took a physics course that had five exams, the last being the final. My grades for the exams were, in order: F, D, C, B, and A. My "average" all along the way was pretty dismal. The final grade I was assigned (I won't say earned, I guess) was A. I was a happy camper. The prof actually had a reputation as being very strict.

Without knowing more it is impossible to judge whether the professor is being rational or not.

For what it's worth, the reason for the first F was that I "crammed" and stayed up all night before the exam. Well, one reason, anyway. It was open-book, also.

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The professor says she refuses to tell us our grades. The syllabus mentions the same policy.

Is this normal?

Normal is relative. From my perspective, having grades per class isn't normal. Your situation is clearly different, but you haven't given any information which would help us know what it is.

What should I do?

Accept it and move on with your life.

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You sound like you are very concerned about your past grades. Students who pay a lot of attention to their past grades tend to believe they cannot control what they learn, because it is a fixed number. Psychologists call this an "external locus of control." External locus of control can reduce the amount of effort students put into learning.

Students who pay a lot of attention to what they need to do in the future in order to learn have an "internal locus of control." They believe their decisions determine what they will learn. These students tend to put in more effort and study more efficiently.

It is a legitimate pedagogical approach for professors to refuse to discuss grades with students. When doing so, it is important to guide students to thinking about things they can choose to do which will help them learn. This can help students view their futures as being something they believe they can control by making good choices. Such beliefs lead to good choices.

Of course, it's possible your professor does not want to discuss your grades because they do not know what they are.

Regardless of the reasons, it is unlikely your professor is required to provide grades before the end of the course.

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    the locus of control theory implies that students should not know how well they are doing. I never heard of this theory before but I strongly suspect it implies no such thing. Students need to know how well they‘re doing for entirely practical reasons having to do with prioritizing competing tasks. If a student is taking several classes and has limited time to study, it‘s rational, desirable and healthy for them to make decisions about how to allocate their study time between the different classes to optimize the overall grade distribution. To do that, they need to know their grades. Simple. – Dan Romik Feb 11 at 4:54
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    @DanRomik I don't believe that optimizing grades is a good goal. That goal leads to selecting courses that require the least learning. Students would be wiser to optimise their actual learning directly, rather than using grades as a low quality proxy. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 11 at 5:06
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    In an ideal world, I suppose you’re right. In the actual world where failing a class can result in losing a fellowship, getting kicked out of school, even losing your visa and having to leave the country and other bad consequences, and where the difference between an A and an A- can mean not getting into your grad school of choice, the system essentially forces students to solve such optimization problems all the time as a survival strategy. You may not like that the system works that way, but it does, so I don’t think withholding grade information from students is a viable approach. – Dan Romik Feb 11 at 5:15
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    @DanRomik Exactly. It's actually worse than that: the students whose learning benefits most from having regular, consistent feedback overlaps heavily with the students from marginalized demographics, which also overlaps heavily with the students who have the most on the line with good grades. I personally believe that this is one of the common, unquestioned practices in STEM that contributes to keeping it heavily white and male. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 11 at 5:16
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    @ElizabethHenning good point. But can you clarify what specifically is the “common, unquestioned practice” that you’re referring to? – Dan Romik Feb 11 at 5:31
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Personally I think an instructor ought to maintain a running grade count, but it is conceivable that one might not. Might only do the data entry and calculation at the end. Or maybe wants to retain ability to finesse the grades a bit (will only be done in your favor unless a snake, though).

I doubt there is a policy requiring the prof to give interim grading instruction, but of course you could check. There is a big difference between "required" and optimal.

For what it is worth, I went to a school that had formal, published interim grades every 4 weeks, during 16 week semesters. Most people hated this more than like it since it could create academic sanctions...

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Probably your professor doesn't believe in computing grades in intermediary stages for the subject of your class. Depending on the topic, the only interesting thing might be how qualified you are at the end of your class, when you can try to put all things together.

Let's look at a (fictitious and ridiculous) example. If you are able to work with 100% of all concepts taught in the first 88% of the class, your "intermediary grade" might look like a solid "A" at that point, right? Now imagine a future obstetrics doctor who only has learnt everything about the first eight months of gravidity.

And there is this saying even in finance: "Past Performance Is Not An Indicator Of Future Results". So you should concentrate on improving (to achieve optimal "future results"). Don't attach too much importance to intermediary grades. Not everything in academic studies is made of little portions you can check off one by one; sometimes you gotta catch 'em all before they start making sense ;)

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    Past performance is not an indicator of future results in financial markets because it's impossible to make any reliable predictions whatsoever about financial markets. If this is the way you run your courses, I feel sorry for your students. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 11 at 18:41
  • @ElizabethHenning would you please explicate "the way" you are referring to? As far as I can see, I did not mention the way I use to run my courses at all. - I we indeed have met, and are you unsatisfied with your grades, you might want to take the discussion to a different place. – jvb Feb 12 at 14:03
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I've actually seen this a lot, and I think it's completely reprehensible. The reasoning is ostensibly that the only "grade" is the final grade, which cannot be accurately determined until after the final exam.

Unfortunately, you're not going to get anywhere with this instructor trying to get her to budge on this. You might have more luck with asking her a more noncommittal question, such as "How am I doing in the course?" or by asking her for advice about how you can do better (even if you're already doing well).

As someone who's TA'd for professors with this ridiculous policy, I can tell you that badgering the TA won't help. The TA doesn't know either. Really.

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    Can you please clarify what is the “this” that you have seen a lot and think is reprehensible? The reason I ask is that OP’s question is ambiguous. One can interpret it either as @darijgrinberg did, as describing a professor who gives out grades for assignments and a grading policy but refuses to answer the perennial “can you tell me my chances of getting a B” (etc) questions from students (in which case I will disagree that it’s anywhere near “reprehensible”); or an alternative interpretation is of a prof who simply refuses to give out any grades until the end of term, which I agree is bad. – Dan Romik Feb 11 at 7:35
  • @DanRomik "What are my chances of getting a B?" is an essentially unanswerable question. "How am I doing in the course right now?" is not. In some of the responses here, there's a conflation going on between making predictions about the final grade and letting students know where they stand as the course is in progress. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 11 at 18:19
  • darij grinberg also says that it's "nontrivial" to compute a current grade. This is nonsense. It's completely sensible to tell a student that up to that point they have been doing B work, because it accurately implies that if the student continues doing work of that quality they can expect to earn a B. If it doesn't imply that, then the instructor needs to reconsider their grading policies. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 11 at 18:31

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