I was interested in Al's experience for a couple of reasons. The first is the potential conflict in what the grade is measuring I mentioned in the last email. In theory our goal as faculty is to make sure students are able to meet the official course outcomes as defined in the common course numbering system, plus whatever else we think is important in our field. The final grade ought to reflect our opinion of what percentage of the outcomes the student has met. Unfortunately life sometimes intervenes in the measuring process and we are left with a set of graded assessments that may or may not add up to a good measure of learning outcomes.
As dean, I tend to face that at the end of the semester when I get the students' complaints. That makes me interested in ways to avoid the mis-match up front, or at least to make it less likely. I also don't really like to be the person who has to arbitrate between the student who thought her child's pre-school graduation was more important that the deadline for an exam. She thought she'd be able to get the exam in earlier, but of course the car broke, the cat threw up, .....
On the other hand, we all want to control our lives also. We want to know when we need to set aside time for grading and we know the end of the term is a hard deadline.
How do you balance those conflicts? The math department includes an extra exam, so the lowest score is automatically dropped from consideration. That was when a student misses an exam it doesn't affect his grade. It does probably affect his learning -- we would hope to the degree it does, that is captured in the following exams.
At the end of the term when you are reviewing your grades do you look at the overall picture and think about what you really believe in terms of learning outcomes? (And just to complicate things, some outcomes are probably more important than others....)
Al's solution was interesting. What is yours?