Thursday, November 20, 2003

Sorting and grade inflation 

The Irascible Professor has a guest post by Tina Blue, who teaches English at Kansas. She has learned that students who might get just a 'C' are simply dropping her classes.
In each of my "Introduction to Poetry" sections, I had started out with 45 students. But by the end of the semester, I had only 22 in one class and 25 in the other. That degree of shrinkage had never happened to me before.

As I compared my final rosters with the grade book, however, I discovered who it was that had dropped my course.

Almost every student who was getting a C in the course, or in danger of getting a C, had dropped out. Even a few that looked as though they were likely to receive B's had dropped the course.

No wonder almost everyone who stayed through the entire course received either an A or a B final grade. Nearly all the C students had abandoned ship.

The thing is, I know that many of the students who dropped my course were actually enjoying it. But as I was told by one girl I ran into a couple of weeks after she dropped the class, a lot of them just don't feel they can risk getting a "bad" grade -- and in today's academic environment, a C is definitely a bad grade, In fact, a B might even be low enough to seriously damage their records, cost them their scholarships, or hurt their chances of getting into their preferred major or into the graduate program of their choice.
The Irascible One notes that the problem lies with university policies:
Course withdrawal policies at most American colleges and universities have eroded over the years to the point where students can drop a class almost up to the date of the final exam for the flimsiest of reasons. When the IP was an undergraduate at Berkeley back in the "dark ages", a student had 10 class days at the beginning of the semester to drop and add courses. After that, getting out of the course for anything short of a major medical crisis was just about impossible.
We have arrived at SCSU at the point where we give tests before drop date -- which comes midway through the semester, better than ten years ago when it was about 70% through the course -- which encourages students to get out. We've even seen cases of students taking classes and not paying for them, and then sending in the tuition if their grade turns out as they wish. Otherwise they decline to pay, we don't put up a grade, etc. (The university has cut down on this practice in the last two years, but you still see a couple of students trying to get away with it.)

So when we say everyone is decidedly above average, I guess we mean it.