Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Grading to a curve

Miss Snippet sighed and stared at the class's English homework.  Ever since the headmaster had decided that the school needed more innovation things had been getting harder and harder, with the job potentially taking up more and more of her free time.  She had solved a lot of these issues by passing the workload onto the children, but now it was slowing down her plans to be able to undercut the current cafeteria suppliers on fresh produce and reduce her income for the year.  It was surprising, she felt, but it seemed like all that the headmaster's solutions did was generate new problems.
She picked up the first book, and then the headmaster's new instructions for grading.  He'd felt that grading honestly was dishonest and lead to the school appearing to have some better teachers than others, which failed to show a united front.  He'd also expressed worry (dithered, thought Miss Snippet) that it might lead to teacher's deliberately sabotaging each other's classes in order to gain some kind of competitive advantage.  Which she had, in fact, been doing, and resented him spotting it.  Then he'd decided that grading to a bell curve was too American, which met the staff complaints that they were having to give inappropriate marks to students in order to fit them to the curve.  But he'd decided to simply pick another curve, which not only made it clear he hadn't listened, but left them trying to find ways of grading to that curve that didn't require sophisticated computer models and algorithms.  For the moment, they were grading to a finite sum of sinusoids, and Miss Snippet had realised that she could achieve this with a random number generator and a fourier transform.
The random number generator beeped, spitting out the first grade, and Miss Snippet put ticks and crosses at random on the page and wrote the grade next to it.  As she closed the book the generator beeped again, so she sped up her marking a little in order to keep up.  Five minutes later she had finished.
Now she came to their site reports, which weren't graded at all and which she actually paid a lot of attention to.  She cared very little if they understood the difference between a gerundival adjective and a continuous present adverb, but she cared a lot if their estimations for the cost of digging up the playground, ploughing in a hundredweight of manure, and planting it with marrows, cabbages and raspberry canes were wrong, badly written, or hard for the other children to follow.  Her pen tracked each line in the reports, and her calculator waited patiently for her to encounter another set of figures that needed checking.  It took two hours, but in that time she realised that Jane Ather was attempting to conceal the loss of four hundred pounds of sharp sand, and that there was a possibility of subsidence if they dug any closer to the school kitchens.  Pleasingly, Godfrey, the foreman this month had spotted both as well and made recommendations.  She accepted that they should stop digging towards the school and reinforce the edges that they already had, and rejected his proposal of staking Jane out for the ants that appeared to be colonising the football pitches.  Her pen wavered for a moment, as she considered that the best punishments provided very visible examples, but finally decided that it didn't meet the crime.  Something less lethal was probably more suitable.
She smiled happily as she laid the last report down.  People thought that children were only good for teaching things to, but she was living proof that child-labour could be a very viable proposition.  She could hardly wait till they started turning ten and she get them doing some seriously heavy labour.

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