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Friday, August 22, 2008

Provost's sudden demand for midterm grades

I was shocked and distressed to receive the memo from the Provost this morning regarding a new requirement for midterm grades. It is arrogant and incompetent to send it out only one day before the semester begins when faculty have already prepared their syllabi. What does she do over the summer? She gets paid a high salary for this mismanagement.

1. The main problem of this poorly thought out idea is that it is too late to incorporate it into the syllabus of a course. I have arranged all my courses and coordinated dates for my own grading time and for the Fall break.

2. Apparently the Provost didn't get much practical advice from professors. The fourth week is too early for a student to have grasped the basic concepts, hence a grade is premature. The most that can happen is a few quizzes. The seventh week is more reasonable. The old drop date was the eighth week.

3. In order to assign any grade the professor needs to estimate a curve for all students. This means grading 100 percent.

4. The wording is slippery. It appears to say the Senate recommends grades for the weaker students, but then jumps to saying all students. We need to look at the exact Senate resolution.

5. This strikes me as a case where the Provost will whine that faculty are being uncooperative.

David Davis


lawrence anderson said...

Here is the portion of the Faculty Senate minutes regarding midterm grades:

Marcia King-Blandford: Ok. My next item is the Log Item 0708-11, Assigning Mid-Term Grades. The Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee was charged with investigating the issue of assigning mid-term grades for those taking general education classes. Mid-term grades would asses students’ standing in their courses. It would not be a part of the student permanent record. Of particular concern is what processes would be required in assigning such grades to large general education classes, and how difficult it would be. What would be the most effective way for students to get a sense of their academic standing? The Faculty Senate Core Curriculum Committee researched this issue to get ourselves up to speed on this first. Mid-term grading started in the 1990’s and at that point in time they were given a mid-term grade. What has happened is mid-term grading has evolved to a different kind of best practice. Under this scenario institutions have gone to what is called “early alert”. An early alert is based on a lot of research that has also come out of the first year experience groups. What it recommends is that students need to have feedback prior to mid-term, which really helps students stay in college. And we support their academic success to have feedback between weeks 4 and 6 in that kind of time frame. The Core Curriculum Committee is recommending a hybrid of this mid-term grade, and early alert grade, and what we are recommending is that for the academic year 2008/09 we initiate a pilot project and invite faculty teaching general education courses to participate. What this would entail is between weeks 4 and 7 the Registrar’s Office would open up the grading system. Faculty teaching gen ed courses would be encouraged to give students who are earning a C+ or lower mid-term grades. The intervention would be an email notification that would go to the students with verbiage that told them to contact their instructor immediately. An email would also be sent to college advisors and our recommendation is to the Learning Enhancement Center. What the Core Curriculum Committee was hoping for was that this would be a triangular approach, a safety net. The faculty teaching the course would know, the student would know, the advisors would know and also we would let the existing support system know. We felt it was important that this information be disseminated through the FYI courses as one methodology for getting this information out there. Our recommendation is that this takes place between week 4 and 7. We knew we could get the FYI orientation classes in this period and we would educate the students why they are getting mid-term grades. The research out of the FYI reports that students who know their grade in more than one class have a better chance of getting retained. We would explain to them why it was coming at this point in time in different courses. English Courses, Comp I and II, Mathematic courses are part of general education so if they would be earning a C+ and below in those classes along with other general education courses, they would be getting this feedback in multiple courses.

We are also suggesting for academic year 2009/10 we add a button to the grade A,B,C,D,I,F EA – Early Alert. In 2009/10 the option would be to click on the Early Alert and send an Early Alert notification to the students. The difference between getting the actual grade, that’s what we are recommending for the first academic year, and having an Early Alert sent is Early Alert works more like what you do with student athletes. Early Alert goes along with, are they attending classes, are they participating, are they completing assignments, so it has a much broader spectrum and is a different system by design, than what we call an Early Alert grade. It is the recommendation of the Core Curriculum Committee that we run each of these sequentially. There are strong feelings that we want to have a very comprehensive and well thought-out system. At the same point in time we recognize that this would require a lot of collaboration across a lot of different lines, and it also requires partnering with The Center for Teaching and Learning and investing in faculty development in information centers, and it requires a partnership with Institutional Research to get the kind of data collection that would give us feedback to answer the question we were charged with. And because this takes place in about 60% of the institutions across the United States there is data out there that is proprietary to those institutions. Any committee members that are here, can you add anything?
Senator Thompson-Casado: Are you envisioning this for summer courses as well or just Fall semester courses?
Marcia King-Blandford: We just talked about the new academic year.
Senator Stierman: Regarding student athletes, I rarely see a productive change in behavior; they still don’t turn in assignments and still don’t show up.
Marcia King-Blandford: We did meet with the representatives from the Athletic Department and we met the people from QUEST, and they are looking at their systems also. That’s why we felt it was important to have that kind of cross information to be shared not only with the instructor but with the advisor and with The Learning Enhancement Center.
Prof. Anderson: I’m a visitor to the senate, two comments; one, I maintain continuous grading on Web CT for the students, as mentioned it doesn’t have much of an effect. Everything is delayed until the last two weeks and then they do all the work. The second thing is, we’ve already got a grading form and the attendance record form and they are all in different locations. Can all of this be put in one place so that if we are going into Early Alert for anything we just have to do that on one page; even the athletic program material could be put on the same page for the students.
Marcia King-Blandford: We can take that recommendation forward and that was part of the conversation with the Athletic Department and the QUEST program. My understanding is that QUEST built their form based on Athletics. We already had initial conversations about making that form electronic. That’s a very good suggestion. The Faculty Senate Core Curriculum also has made the recommendation that there is a way for Web CT grades to be linked to Banner, so that you aren’t giving multiple grades and multiple systems, repeating things.
Prof. Lipman: One suggestion about the label of Early Alert; it seems that every time something questionable is brought about, we have another alert, or red flag, or language of alarm. I’m thinking of the security protocols that have been implemented recently and I wonder if there isn’t a way to label this positively as opposed to it sounding threatening. The other thing that crosses my mind is that at least for those who are in a department with TA’s, you are going to have a lot of first time teachers who are issuing grades for five or six weeks, and it’s going to take some real responsibility for those departments to make sure first time TA’s evaluate their own instructional methodologies for the first year.
Prof. Dowd: Just for context, a few years ago the Economic Department did this for all our sections of Principles of Macro and Principles of Micro classes as a pilot study for the provost’s office. I have a bit of advice based on that experience, you need to get the word out as early as possible to faculty members because this will influence the way they determine course grades and the timing of when they offer exams. The Econ faculty members did not object in any substantial way to this program, but it is very important to get the word out to them as soon as possible so they can build this into their syllabi as a mid-term grade
Senator Morrissey: Do you still require that students sign up so parents can see first semester grades?
Marcia King-Blandford: They can sign on and see the finances but I don’t know about grades.
Prof. Jorgensen: Students are like all of us and fool themselves sometimes. When you ask them how are they doing in the class, and they say, about a “B”. A “B” means I got a “B” on one test and two “C”s in others. With Web CT teaching introductory classes it is very easy to total the points to date at least once in the semester. Essentially every student in a 1000 level in Chemistry class this past fall, about 2,000 students, got a letter grade next to their name, saying right now you are getting a “C”, or a “C-“ or a “C+”, and actually seeing that grade. Even though they know the scale and they know what a 75% is, I think that seeing that grade, does get their attention. From what I understand students establish study habits like what do they do Sunday nights or Saturday afternoons, within just the first 5, 6, or 7 weeks of class. If they are faced with a grade that is not what they expected, clearly not the grade they got in high school in those classes, I think putting that grade out there can be educational.
Jennifer Rockwood: There is quite a bit of research in the first year information resource center about early grades and it does in fact change a student’s work patterns and their study habits when they know that they are not doing well, especially in the first semester of their college year because they are unclear as to the academic rigors. There is a lot of proof that it does make a big difference. I do think it is hard to put a positive spin when you are not doing well, or you are failing. I think some universities call it Early Warning, but it is hard to find positive words for “you’re on your way out, buddy.” It does have a really big impact on first year students because that is when they are establishing their study habits and time management skills. It does make a big difference.
Senator Piotrowski: You are aware that in Composition I, “C” is the only grade? Will there be a way to indicate that they are doing poorly on assignments and they need support?
Marcia King-Blandford: Midterm grades or early alert grade, until we get a different name, once it has been turned on, it will be turned on across the university for every class, so it is either on or off. If this recommendation moves forward, it will be turned on. If an instructor in composition chooses to send a grade, they would have that freedom. We are just asking for the pilot project to see a “C” or better. There were some conversations around composition. The answer to the second question, the follow up with the actual instructor, and we talked about what this means and how it is a pilot project and how that verbiage e-mail is going to be written; what is actually going to be said in there and we just haven’t gotten that far yet. I think we’ve had a lot of conversations about what that has to say to get people’s attention.
Unidentified speaker: For some students who just aren’t showing up and nothing will work no matter what you do.
Prof. Lawrence: I teach 300 and 400 level courses. I wonder whether this formal structure creates more pitfalls than a policy written for general ed. courses, that would require courses themselves to track their progress. I have two quizzes and two assignments before the end of that date. All of my students can see those grades. There is an intervention with an advisor and certainly all of them can see those grades and how they are doing in the course. I don’t see how that is any different than formal process, I also wonder is there an issue of releasing the status of these grades through e-mail to other individuals besides the students with student’s permission to do that.
Marcia King-Blandford: The advisor will get an e-mail that the student has received a “C” or below. They won’t get an actual grade.
Prof. Lawrence: Even without the actual grade you are still giving an indication to someone besides the student as to the progress of the grade assigned. You’re actually classifying those students at a certain level of their status. It just seems to me that there is a potential here for a lot of confusion among the students, as well as advisors and instructors.
Marcia King-Blandford: I think that the points you raised have been heard, and we had those same conversations in the committee.
Senator Barnes: One of the things we were concerned about was the work load of giving everyone a midterm grade and we’ve batted around the idea that it would be confusing for students. The idea was that if you only had to record students who were really in trouble then it would be easier even though you are still going to have to calculate all those grade but we just thought it might be easier on the faculty.
Prof. Lawrence: I give midterm grades for all my students and all my students have access to that. The question is formalizing it through an official grade structure and how do you go to the extra step to only submit those that are a C+ or below. As a suggestion to you there are other ways in handling this within a classroom structure. You could make it a requirement of all gen. ed. courses to report midterms to all their students, or some equivalent of that without formalizing it through an official grading system which does create extra steps to have to report only those grades, and raise the question to students, instructors and advisors, why some students may or may not get a grade and try to explain why this is in place. Why can’t all instructors of general ed. be informed to please advise all your students of their midterm status?
Prof. Dowd: I’d like to support the statement made by Prof. Jorgensen. There is a difference between telling a students that their average is 75% and the student seeing that is a “C”. There is a difference here especially for students who are newer to the university. They may not be used to seeing grades in percentage terms but they do understand the “A-F” metric. If faculty give them a midterm grade, it needs to be in a letter form because that’s what they relate to and that’s what they understand.
Senator Barnes. It certainly isn’t enough to just tell them what their individual grades are on the assignments. What I do is I make a matrix and say this is worth 20% of your grade and keep track of your grade here, and they don’t do it. They might do more when they see the actual letter grade.
Senator Fink: I’m a little confused by this. Are there formal letters that are generated to all the students? I can’t imagine what the cost of that would be.
Marcia King-Blandford: No, it’s just an e-mail.
Senator Fink: Isn’t it true that, at least in the College of Business, every syllabus is supposed to show our grading scale? What percent is an A, what percent is an A-, so they have that on their syllabus. I would think most of them would look at their syllabus.
Marcia King-Blandford: There is enough research out there that shows that there is value and it can be debated a lot of different ways. We don’t know who is doing what in what areas across the university so by at least offering this as a pilot program, this gives us at least the beginnings to get to know what areas are affected. Faculty that are on the committee that speak for their colleges or their program know which students are struggling academically and get feedback.
Senator Fink: I think it is not enough just to give the students their grades. I have a grad assistant and she is best friends with another of my colleague’s grad assistants and she is doing great in her graduate program, but she has a sister who is a freshman here who got off track somewhere. I know her sister tried real hard to help her but her efforts were not enough to save her and, as a result, I have come to the conclusion that it is a good idea to notify advisors if students are at risk and I believe it should be required that these students then have to meet with an advisor. This may be the only way to get these students back on track. It has to be helpful that the students know there is somebody who cares about their performance and someone who can help stop their downward spiral.
Chair Floyd: I think it is important to remember that this is being recommended as a pilot project so there is an opportunity to come back at the end of this pilot and look at what was successful, what wasn’t, and what might be implemented permanently. So I hope that we can keep that in mind in voting on whether or not to accept this. Any other discussion?

Senator Barnes: From the committee’s perspective, we were also encouraging enormous amounts of intervention at that point, so that it wasn’t just an e-mail and a phone call, which I agree, often results in the student coming back for two days and then disappearing again. We hope to have sort of an ongoing strategy for support when this happens. So we are asking for that and we know that requires investment and staffing and things.
Marcia King-Blandford: We really want to invite participation in this. For those of you who already do that, that’s great, and for those of you who want to try it, give us that feedback about what works and what doesn’t and how meaningful it is for the student. I think that is very important to have those voices in the process.
Senator Fink: I was talking to a student today and they had just gone through a problem with depression and was getting help here and was doing a fantastic job with it. Every semester I have students that go through a very tough depression. I don’t know if it is the stress or whatever but apparently we have a very good support system. I do tell the students about the Testing Center. I think that every faculty should be sent a list of phone numbers at the beginning of every semester of how to provide support to students with depression and other things, because we lose a lot of good people. I had a student last year who dropped out, and with a lot of encouragement from the College of Business she came back and fought it everyday, and by the end of the year she had a very good control on it. So instead of being a statistic where she might have done nothing with her life now she’s going to graduate and have a good life. If people could be sent this and we have an opportunity to share it, it we could make a big difference.
Marcia King-Blandford: The University Counseling Center is online and there is a lot of information online about what you can do to help students.
Senator Fink: How do you even know that? If we could just be sent a list of telephone numbers at the beginning of the semester that would be terrific.
Chair Floyd: We need to take a vote on whether to take the committee’s recommendation. The motion is to accept the committee’s report and forward this as a project next year. All those in favor please say “aye”. All those opposed, “nay”. The report has been accepted.

David Davis said...

Now that I have read the Senate minutes, the Provost's demand seems worse than ever. The Senate called for implementation in 2009-10 and said it was a pilot project. Putting it in place this Fall either shows the Provost cannot read or is a deliberate deception.

David Davis