Grading Standards for Essay Assignments
Please note first that assignments, not people, are graded. A grade also does not always reflect how much (or how little) effort was given, and it provides almost no indication of how much philosophical potential or talent a student may have. When grading an assignment I try to provide the most honest, fair, and impartial assessment for that particular assignment.
I am committed to presenting students with intellectual challenges, appropriate to the academic level of a course. These challenges are intended to encourage students to do high quality work. I am committed to recognizing this high quality work according to standards that are as objective and fair as possible for the discipline of philosophy. Because of this, I avoid the use of "curves" or other statistical methods that ensure a consistent class average. I rely more on absolute rather than relative grading standards. Therefore, if students must think of their activities in competitive terms, it is best to think of competing with themselves rather than with other students. Having said this, however, it is important to be clear that I do my very best to grade each assignment on its own terms. This means that I do not take into account your past achievements---or failures---when grading a particular assignment. Each assignment should be viewed as a new opportunity to improve---or not---according to the level of achievement that is given. None of us should ever be happy resting on our laurels.
Most of the material that I grade is related to philosophical ethics. In grading this material, I accept as obvious that students and I have different life experiences and moral judgements, and that these differences can produce different conclusions. I believe that the best environment in which students can learn moral philosophy is one in which they feel as free as possible to explore and examine their experiences and opinions.
I find the activity of grading assignments to be one of the most difficult and psychologically demanding aspects of my work as a professor. I much prefer to provide feedback, and I do my best with the time that I have to give as much of this as possible. Nevertheless, grading is still a very useful way of indicating to students where their work lies on a scale that is as objective as we can provide.
If you have any questions or concerns that such a standard has not been applied, please bring your concerns to my attention. It is very important to me that students should be able to see clearly how their work has been graded, and that it has been graded by fair, reasonable, and impartial standards. Furthermore, in the interest of meeting these standards, I am always prepared to review carefully any grading that I have done in case any mistake on my part has occurred.
A-Level (80-100%) Papers:
An A-level paper presents an outstanding philosophical discussion of the issue in question. Papers at this level show an ability to go beyond, in imaginative and creative ways, the basic arguments and ideas that are encountered in class and in the assigned literature. They are accurate and very well written.
B-level (70-79%) Papers:
Papers at this level are generally accurate, well written, but are less original and innovative than A-level papers. They often present a careful, sound discussion, but do not really add much to the debate as presented and understood from class lectures and the readings. There are no significant problems in B-level papers.
C-level (60-69%) Papers
These papers involve inaccuracies, and have significant problems either in argumentation, quality of writing or clarity of organization and discussion. Even with these problems, C-level papers represent an acceptable, adequate level of performance.
D-level (50-59%) Papers
Work at this level displays severe difficulties with accuracy, argumentation or quality of writing. Often, papers at this level are obviously too light in terms of the quantity of material or argument provided. (Example: on a 5 page assignment, 1 page of unclear, unfocused, inconclusive discussion is provided.) D-level work is an unacceptable, inadequate performance for university-level work.
F-level (0-49%) Papers
This grade signifies that a very significant default has occurred: the assignment was either not submitted, is unintelligible at very fundamental level, or is significantly unrelated to the theme or issue of the assignment.