Some surprising math

A state-wide college humanities committee has decreed that writing must be “integral” to any humanities course before it can automatically transfer to other colleges.

What does “integral” mean? According to the committee, “Integral is defined by the following: a student cannot successfully complete the course without successfully completing the writing requirement.

Sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, this innocent definition doesn’t really make sense.

At our college, “successful completion” generally means a C, or at least 70. One of the teachers in our discussion today suggested that by making the writing requirements at least 31% of the total grade we could make it impossible to get a 70 without successfully completing the writing portion of the course. That’s not right, though. That reasoning only holds if the student got 0 on the writing portion — a lot worse than merely failing to successfully complete it. If a student got 69 on the writing portion — just short of “successful completion” — then all he needs is 71 on the rest to get a C in the course.

So how about higher than 31%? Currently we’re considering requiring the writing assignments to account for the majority of points in the course. That doesn’t work much better. Now if a students gets 69 on the writing assignments, she needs more than 71 to get a C overall, but 72 will do.

As a matter of fact, even if the writing portion was 96% of the grade, it would be possible for a student to successfully complete the course by getting 100 on the remaining work:

(69 x .96 + 100 x .04) =  70.24

So to fulfill the requirements, the writing portion of the course needs to be at least 97% of the grade. If we round averages to the nearest integer, it will need to be at least 98%. If successful completion means 60 or above and we round to the nearest integer, then the writing portion needs to be 99%.

I don’t think the Humanities Committee really meant that.

Oh, well (sigh) … at least it wasn’t the Math Committee that said it. 🙂

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