Nearly every course one or more students send an email similar to the below immediately after final grades are posted.
My score is just below the cut off for a higher grade. Can you give me the higher grade?
The answer I usually give is
In every course there is someone who is has the highest score in a particular grade, this course it happens to be you.
Offense can be taken from such a curt reply, but none is meant. In fact it is a gracious reply because the question the student asked is wrong for at least two reasons. First, the situation (a student has the highest grade below a cutoff) is expected and unavoidable. If not that this student, then some other. If this score is adjusted, then a different student is in this situation. I understand and empathize with these students, but there is no reason for a student to expect or seek immunity from this reality.
Second, the student’s question implies that grades are arbitrarily assigned. While I often make mistakes that have to be corrected, I employ a deliberate, thoughtful, and transparent method to determining the grades.
Furthermore, I like to adjust the cutoff between grade to a large, natural break between student scores. As class size increases so does score density, so the probability of finding such a break decreases. Consequently, in large classes the highest score for a particular grade can be fractional percentage points below the cutoff. For obvious reasons this makes it doubly hard to swallow the lower grade.