Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who's At Fault When Students Fail?

Is it the instructor, or the student? Could it be both? Is there some objective way to identify who owns what percentage of blame? I ask because this professor lost his job because he had too many F's.

The problem at Norfolk State, he (the professor) said, isn’t his low grades, but the way the university lowers expectations. He noted that in the dean’s negative review of his tenure bid, nowhere did she cite specific students who should have received higher grades, or subject matter that shouldn’t have been in his courses or on his tests. The emphasis is simply on passing students, he said.

You'll want to read the whole thing, including the comments afterward.

13 comments:

Pomoprophet said...

I wrestle with this. so many of my students would just fail if I didn't give them the answers to the test on the review the day before. Or if I didnt make quizes super easy or if I didnt offer extra credit. I think part of that IS us as teachers. we need to do our best to reach students. But when I look at my football players grade reports and their lowest grades are in my class, I know something isn't right. Its because other teachers let students make up tests until they pass. And turn in late homework whenever they want.

That doesnt teach students...

Dr Pezz said...

Right now we are getting pressure to use "Power Standards" for our courses, which is code-speak for limit the number of standards and only teach those 10-12 things. It's quite frightening.

Ronnie said...

At Davis in the math and science classes at the lower division level a high amount of F's isn't an option for a professor. It's really interesting since classes are weighted to an established grade distribution and therefore a professor will try to make his class fall as close to that grade distribution as possible so he has to curve less. In my math class maybe 20% A's, 20% B's, 34% C's, 14% D's and 12% F's are expected, so if lets say the average on a test is too high, an 82%, he'll make the next one harder to try to move the grades closer to the set grade distribution. After everything is said and done he wants the grades at or slightly lower than the set distribution so that he can curve the grades into that distribution as close as possible, usually without lowering grades.

So in a system like this if a class is on average better than the set grade distribution they suffer since tests are increased in difficulty to compensate for high scores while if a class is on average worse than the set grade distribution they are rewarded through easier tests and a guaranteed curving to many high and passing grades.

Darren said...

That sounds nuts to me. Have standards in advance, teach to them, assess to them, and let the grades fall where they may.

That's what I do, anyway.

Mr. W said...

yeah I unfortunately there are teachers who "feel bad" for the kids and curve their tests or grades to account for the students' lack of preparedness.

The last two years my class average sits right around 70% and sometimes I have half at a D or lower. I only have about 8 - 9 A's for all of my classes. It doesn't bother me. The students quickly learn that I don't curve or round and they need to pick it up.

In fact I heard some kdi tellinghis friend I have a B- that would be an A in another class. Sad thing is that it probably would be.

Darren said...

I used to teach at a junior high, and we had 2 8th grade math teachers. The math department chair of the high school we fed into once told me that a C in my class would be an A in the other teacher's class, because he didn't teach much and handed out A's like candy. He said they knew that they could count on my grades as being indicative of student performance.

Ellen K said...

I guess that is why I get frustrated at my school. Students have told me that the classes taught by some teachers are cakewalks. And while I send in my lesson plans like a good little soldier every Monday morning, I have seen the "boys' club" in the upper hallway that consists of several young assistant coaches that just happen to teach the lower level math and science classes. Is it any wonder that our freshmen and soph scores dropped precipitously in the last two years? And yet, if I missed one week of following through, as a teacher of an elective that doesn't even feed into the GPA, I would be suspect and written up. It's this attitude, the thought that some teachers are doing the least amount of work possible that drives me wild. I hate it when I get kids who gripe because I make them write and read and think in an art class. Shouldn't they be doing that in EVERY CLASS?

Ronnie said...

The problem with just letting the grades fall where they may is that there is a large variety of how effective a professor can be. Even with strict syllabi's there is a lot of room on what he or she will emphasize and how representative problems that are used to test course knowledge are made. With classes of over 200 people the concept is that their prior knowledge, ability, and intelligence will be relatively stable year to year, while different professors' teaching techniques will vary more. To account for such variance the set grade distribution requires not only certain material be taught but that material be graded similarly across professors. The only problem with this system is when those 200 students actually vary between years, which could happen, but I would think it would be less likely that that would be the issue compared to a professor's effectiveness.

Darren said...

Ronnie, I see your point--but what happens in the case in the linked article, wherein students know they don't have to work to pass?

And Ellen, YES THEY SHOULD.

Ellen K said...

Here's the other side of the coin (playing devil's advocate)
At the college level, most grad students are required to teach in order to maintain their status. This, along with the "publish or perish" statutes seem pretty much common in such settings. Having three college aged kids, I can tell you that some of these grad students are better than others when it comes to teaching. In one case, the College Algebra teacher was so incredibly bad that even the paid assistants from the Learning Center where tutoring occurred couldn't understand what he was trying to teach. And then there was the Extremely Bitter Grad Student, who chose to simply teach graduate level economics to an entry level class-material that even a Master student in math from another university was struggling to understand. At some level, the professor has to be accountable for presenting appropriate material for the coursework and evaluating it in a fair and consistent manner.I will say that in most cases, the tenured teaching professors were well informed, well prepared and very even handed in their grading. But in other cases, adjunct professors were quite often unprofessional and were frequently subject to complaints. Much of this had to do with the universities not vetting their lecturers for adequate communication skills. We require student teaching for a person to even enter a public school kindergarten as an education, doesn't it make sense that a person who is assigned to teach at the college level should have some practical experience in shaping a course, designing assignments and writing exams? In an ideal situation, teachers would teach and students would learn. But in the real world, too many people are seeking the preferential angle that will leverage them out of doing due diligence. In short, at college students should expect to pull a few "all nighters" in order to pass, but students also have the right to have someone in charge of the class that will hold up that end of the bargain.

Ronnie said...

Well in the article those kids seem to have it down. If you all work together to do awfully the curve would give most people good grades. The problem is that for that to happen it takes either a group of seriously unmotivated kids or the best strategic planning I've ever seen. At most schools though there are enough people who want to learn and want to do well that neither one of those scenarios could happen. The situation in the article is unique since it seems that having a school that takes in more than the average amount of under prepared students doesn't provide enough competition to make it where students have to try. It seems like the solution would be to change their admissions policies to something that closer reflects their desired grade distribution. If you want more A's and B's, enroll more A and B students. That would also provides the competition that drives people to stay above the bottom 25% reserved for failing which would help fill in the B and C ranges.

Darren said...

*cynicism alert!!!*

You're assuming that the purpose of the school is education. I assert that the primary purpose of that school is to make money.

It would be nice to think that the fact that they don't teach their graduates much would impact their admissions eventually, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Ellen K said...

Darren I have to agree with you there. Case in point is the dilemma of the Bright Student and the AP Exam. I have had many many students who did very well on AP Exams only to find that their chosen college or university would dole out minimal credit for a great deal of hard work. Counselors in high school like to push AP as an alternative to paying higher tuition. "You can earn college credit!" they exclaim. But the truth is, you will get only the credit that the college feels like giving you. In one of the saddest cases, a truly brilliant kid got fours and fives on every single AP exam he took, from Spanish to English literature to Calculus and Physics. This kid was amazing. But when he went to major in engineering at University of Texas, out of 12 different AP exams in which he scored highly, the school would only allow him three hours credit in Spanish. I understand the need to control the outcome, but my own kids and kids I have taught have all come to me with stories of being pushed into classes that they didn't need simply on the university's say so. If that's the case, why should any kid take an AP class? My own daughter (a recent cum laude grad) had to take freshman English her senior year thanks to just such a pronouncement from on high despite having scored a five on that same English. Luckily, the professor was a friend and she made an A anyway because she's already had stuff published. I wonder if some of these schools even read their own degree plans or if they just pluck out and require classes out of a hatfrom whatever failing program is in need.