A few other students, and one third year student in particular who sent me an email entirely in Korean asking about her score, appeared very surprised with their grades. This is despite the fact that I showed them their midterm scores and most of their homework scores.
Kruger and Dunning (1999) may have the answer:
Using undergraduate college students as subjects, the researchers found that the lowest performers had a consistent and stunning tendency to vastly over-rate their general ability and their performance on the task at hand - much greater than any other group. They found this effect whether the task was intellectual (LSAT questions), social (rating the humor level of jokes), verbal (grammar) or logical. While they actually ranked in the 12th percentile, they estimated their rank as well above average (as in Garrison Keillor's imaginary Lake Wobegon).
Via Monastic Musings.
I'll keep this in mind as I give results next semester - maybe the students really don't know that they need to work harder. I was a terrible student, so maybe I can use this as an excuse myself.
I have wondered in the past if I should be taking students into the hall during class and explaining their poor results and what they mean. There are two concerns here: first, if the student isn't doing well, it may because s/he has made that choice. Second, if the student isn't doing well in English, will I be able to explain anything to them?