Tuesday, February 13, 2007
An extraordinarily wise and handsome reader (okay, my Dad) writes:
At Northern Town State the rule was that if you repeat a course for whatever
reason, the *last grade *is the one that counts. So, if you wanted to
repeat a course for a higher GPA, you should make certain that the grade
There was one instance that I remember when a graduating senior was
repeating a course and failed it. He not only failed the course but did
not graduate due to losing credits which he had previously earned with
We also allowed departments to determine how many times a student in their
major could repeat a failed course.
Do-overs are a tough call.
I've seen different variations on it. At Proprietary U, if I remember correctly, each attempt was averaged with the previous ones. An F plus a C equaled a D. So it was only worthwhile to repeat if you thought you could jump two letter grades.
At my cc, the second grade replaces the first, but any subsequent grades would be averaged in with previous ones from the second on. So if a kid took a class four times and got grades of F,D,C, and B, the final grade would be a C, as the average of D,C, and B. (There's no rule blocking do-overs if the grade was passing. Theoretically, a kid who got a B could take a shot an an A, though I don't recall that ever happening.)
I've never heard of different majors having different requirements on do-overs, though it may make sense for overcrowded programs. I'd argue that given a scarcity of seats, the kid trying for the fourth time has a lesser claim on a seat than a new student.
The academic purist in me objects to do-overs on general principle. Assuming the lack of some really egregious external factor (extended hospitalization, etc.), I want to say, what you get is what you get. A kid who aced a course the first time through has accomplished something more impressive than a kid who aced it the third time through. A kid who had to take everything three or four times before passing may eventually wind up with a degree, but I'm not sure just what – other than tenacity – the degree signifies.
But I can't really be that pure. One of the basic reasons for cc's to exist is to provide second chances. Some kids coast through high school and don't really find their academic groove until college. We're here for them. Some folks object to that on the grounds of 'moral hazard,' opining that our existence lowers the cost of being a goofoff in high school. There's some truth to that, but from a pragmatic perspective, there have always been – and will always be – teenagers who goof off. We can either write them off at 17, or not. I vote not. From a systems perspective, we can't afford to squander all the late-blooming talent out there; from a humanitarian perspective, it would be unconscionable. Better to allow fresh starts, even if it involves taking the long view when some snot-nosed teenager skips gym to go make out with his girlfriend or chug Boone's Farm Apple Wine behind the bleachers. (I'll probably take a less philosophical view of these issues when The Boy is a teenager.)
The argument for second chances rests on a recognition of the complexity of life and motives, and an assumption about the purpose of college. If the purpose of college is to equip students with life and/or employment skills, I could imagine that different students would take different amounts of time to attain those skills. If the purpose is a sort of IQ screening, separating nature's aristocrats from nature's proles, then do-overs are unconscionable distortions. I lean towards the former.
That said, though, there are still different ways to handle do-overs. My sense is that one freebie, followed by averaging, is probably about right, though I'd have reservations about a kid doing that too many times. (Maybe increase the tuition for each subsequent attempt? The first time is at x tuition, the second at 2x, the third at 3x, etc. That would deter the opportunistic grade-grubbers.) I'm also not a fan of do-overs if the kid passed the class. Leaving aside the ambiguity of the 'D' grade, I'm not inclined to support do-overs for C's or better. But that's me.
All of that said, if the policy is at least rational, and it's published, and the kid took the risk, then I say the kid who changed a D to an F is SOL. You pays your money, you takes your chances. If the kid was given a second chance in good faith and he whiffed, that's really his problem.
Wise and noble blogosphere – what do you think about do-overs?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.
Might cut down on prof's recycling lesson plans and tests forever.
As long as all grades and attempts appear on the transcript, I'm not really that bothered by do-overs.
I know of an excellent student who was in a terrible and abusive home situation. There is a required class at his CC which requires several layers of introspection this person was not able to do. He stopped going to that class every time, at that point, four times. My CC counts only the last grade once they pass, but every failing grade -- so, every time the student failed, it would counter act an A or B they earned in another class.
Finally, this student was able to finish that class and thus to bring up their GPA significantly.... enough so that they were able to get a quasi-academic scholarship to finish their 4-year degree away from that awful home.
You could say I'm a fan of the 'do over'. The student is doing very well away from home.
Here's something you might like, if you haven't already run with it before:
Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (Plus a Few Extra)
During the 18-25 year-old "span," this is where all sorts of mental illness and/or substance abuse emerges full flower. If you look at the mental health data, which indicates at any given time, about 20% of the general population has some form of mental illness and/or substance abuse issue, you can expect a similar percentage in your undergraduate class. Unlike the over 25 crowd, most of these students are just beginning to realize and/or come to grips what's going on in their lives. For some students, it can be a devastating illness.
This is also the age group that is very prone to mono as well.
So long as a student explains to me what's going on, I tend to give student's "Incompletes" if they're in trouble, contingent that they get help. Classes can be dropped or re-taken. But illness is illness. And as a faculty member, I have to judge my academic expectations against what is the humane thing to do.
Here's somehting that's not coming up in this LAD (lofty-ass-discussion): the last thing an adjunct has time for is a line of students who received C's all calmouring for time with the "Prof" to ask him/her 'how do I get my grade up?'. How to circumvent this? Easy, give B's and B+'s.
The thing is, there is a certain justice in this. While the grades may be inflated, we all know (even though the students tend not to) that a 3.0 or a 3.3 GPA is not going to get them very far in terms of top tier graduate and professional programs. So all is well.
I'm guessing there are some cases where a student got an F for basically not doing the work or something, and then the second time around gets a good grade.
But in my own experience, the jump is from a not passing grade to some sort of C and passing. If that class is required for a major, then that's probably good.
Most state schools I've been to and/or taught at allowed a limited number of retakes (up to 2 for any given course or so), and one could only retake a course for a new grade if one had gotten a C- or below.
I know some professors who suspect pre-meds are trying to game the system, but when we've broken down the numbers, the students repeating don't seem to be gaming, just having difficulties.
Disclosure: I failed and retook for passing grades two courses in college, both required for my major though not necessarily obviously useful. I went from a failing grade to a C-ish grade in each. I wasn't gaming the system, just hadn't learned to really study.
I'm against do-overs because life, and especially one's college career, are too short. I've seen too many kids who would have squandered this very scarce resource polishing and repolishing the least interesting classes rather than moving on.
The place where I teach now will not allow people to retake the core intro course more than 3 times, and they can only repeat with a C- or worse. We had too many people spending years flunking our courses instead of moving on to disciplines that were better fits to their lifestyle and interests. Lots of pushy parents in our community insisting that Johnny be a doctor instead of letting him study business or English.
On the other hand, it drives me a little crazy to see a student trying to pass a class for the fourth time. At what point is it just a little silly to allow them another shot?
Do-overs are great but I think they should be limited to one time unless there is a documented reason the second go-around didn't work out (illness, death in family, etc.).
My current institution allows an apparently infinite number of attempts at a course (in one of my classes, I had a student on his 6th attempt). Further, there's a provision for re-taking a course you've failed. If you do better, the new attempt replaces the old one, which is removed from the transcript. (This can be done for up to 10 credit hours.) (Also, I have colleagues who refuse to fail people--they give D- grades--because they disapprove of this policy.)
What do I think? I am conflicted. The point, I think, is for people to learn the material. So why not allow multiple attempts? But, then, should all those attempts show up on the transcript? That definitely sends a signal to employers (who bother to look), doesn't it? If it takes a student 6 tries to get through intro to psychology, even if, in the last attempt, the grade was an A or a B, doesn't that tell you something?
This is not an easy issue.
Our institution only allows you to repeat a failing grade (D,F) or a withdrawal. All of them appear on the transcript, but only the last one counts toward the GPA.
A student gets two tries at the regular tuition level. A third (or fourth if allowed by appeal) comes with an out-of-state tuition cost that is mandated by State Law. However, it only counts at a given institution, so a student can (in principle) get more than 50 tries if they shop from CC to CC across the state!
Students in professional fields (e.g. engineering) are held to a much different standard by the respective college - regardless of where they did their first two years. They must meet the entry requirements within a tight set of rules that count attempts at any institution. You don't really want a bridge designed by someone who only gets it right on the third try.
As a professor I don't see a lot wrong with do-overs. If students need another semeter of English 101, they need another semester. If you can ace it the first time great, but if our end goal is education, shouldn't we educate?
My long-time partner, who now teaches AP calculus, took his lower-division math courses (pre-calculus + three calculus classes) at a community college. He enrolled in several twice--sometimes the first instructor was lousy or incomprehensible, sometimes he just wanted a different approach to the material. (He was transitioning from teaching social studies at the time.) He often says that many students don't understand the material the first time through, and that's to be expected.
in grad school? Seems to me language classes could be done over, but even with a policy that allows it, you know damned well the grad committee will be looking at that student and wondering if s/he's serious enough (thank goodness languages were never my problem). Grad coursework do-overs? No way, unless there are extremely good extenuating circumstances (illness, death in family, collapse of marriage at exactly the wrong time ...). After all, I think a lot of very good grad schools allow people to take their comps twice.
But , I think, an NFL model might work here -- rather than charge for the do-over, students have a quota. Say one per four semesters/six quarters. By rationing, you create the parallel sense of constraint you do with charging $$, but without rewarding rick dilettantes and punishing poor ones.
As an employer, that's not how I look at it. I look for an A to represent the ability to master a subject in three months, not in nine months. Except for a few vases, I'm rarely hiring a student because of their mastery of a particular topic (the exception being accountants, but really even they are taught most of what they need on the job), so grades are more a proxy for some combination of discipline and ability -- I rarely care about content of the class. We just hired a women's studies major and a marketing major for the same job.
I can imagine that some people will object to the suggestion that a college should adapt to what an employer needs, but really, isn't that the point of transcripts? If not, why make them public at all?
is supposed to represent 98
I remember not so long ago that a big name private school changed a policy to put Fs on a transcript. Before that, any student who got an F in a class simply had it not show on their transcript. They could retake, and it looked like they were doing it the first and only time.
That would give a potential competitive advantage to students from that school over those from schools that recorded all grades.
I earned a B, somehow.
A year later, I decided I wasn't finished learning the material, and that if I was weak in this area, I'd better make myself do it again. So I signed up again. I never asked if it would be ok, and my university never argued. (But then, they'd have taken almost anyone's money.)
That 2nd time around made a huge difference. (In fact, part of my last three teaching jobs have included conducting, so it obviously helped.)
Oh, and that time? I earned an A. The higher of the two grades stood on my transcript.
But you're mostly talking about students who are struggling to pass classes. Here at my current university, a student may take a class twice and be covered by financial aid. The third do-over is on their own dime.
Sadly enough, I have a few students paying for that third do-over.
I hope you never find yourself in an emergency room looking up at a nurse who got a B despite missing 5 weeks of class, or in court facing a judge who got a B+ for going to a BBall game ... even if there would be a certain justice in that.
Oh, you are hoping that Prof. NextLine, whose income depends on research (not teaching) will catch those cases? No, there is nothing lofty about this discussion. It is extremely practical.
And here is a handy tip: The answer to "How do I get my grade up" is "study one hour every day of the week for this class", "read the book before class", "come to class every day", "review your notes after each class", "hang up your phone during class", etc.
I would have a different reason to say no to do-overs: that it is fine to walk away from a job poorly done, and that doing it better through repetition suggests a focus on rote knowledge rather than critical thinking (in the case of the humanitites or social sciences) or the capacity for creative decision making that fields like nursing might require. Why are we surprised that students are obsessed with grades when we build in systems that implicitly suggest that a bad grade is a terrible stain that must be expunged?
I took the course the next semester with another professor and earned an A. I didn't do better because the prof/course was any less rigorous, but because the prof spoke more clearly and concretely, and he was available for questions and clarifications in a way the other one wasn't.
The first prof was one of those pompous asses who believes their own hype, uses all their own texts in class, and speaks way above the heads of the students. I think he did it on purpose as a way of objecting to having to teach second year undergrads when he really wanted to teach only at a doctoral level (which he would have been excellent for, btw).
Anyway, the course was required to get into my major, so without the do-over, I would not now be working on my dissertation -- at least, not in my chosen field.
That said, I was looking for one failure, not a pattern of repeating classes. So-so first year, bombed second year, came back a year or two later and did well after that? I wanted to interview this candidate -- they'd probably finished growing up. Pattern of retaking 1-2 courses a year? No way -- they probably lacked either the skills or the priorities.
One of the things school teaches is working under pressure, to a deadline. If a transcript only shows the best attempt when a student has taken 2-5 runs through a course, then it is lying by omission.