Friday, February 09, 2007
What does a grade of 'D' mean?
I should have figured this out by now, but I really haven't.
My cc, like most colleges, doesn't give transfer credit for courses in which a student got a 'D.' The standard is a C or better, even though a 'D' is officially a passing grade.
Technically, a 'D' is passing, but it's a sort of a we-don't-really-mean-it pass. A grudging pass, or perhaps a mercy pass. A “you suck at this, but we don't see much point in putting you through this again” pass.
Or, it can be an “I don't ordinarily fail students, but you're testing my faith” pass.
D's make some level of sense if you believe the ancient fiction that a 'C' is an average grade. That hasn't been true for a long time, if ever, but if it were true, a 'D' would carry the relatively clear meaning of 'below average, but still acceptable.' Of course, if it were still acceptable, colleges would take it in transfer. But C's aren't really average, and D's aren't really accepted.
In some majors with relatively strict prerequisite chains, a 'D' doesn't allow a student to take the next level course. (We do that with calculus, bio, nursing, and music theory.) The student can still switch majors and possibly keep the credit for the D course, but that's it. It's a sort of consolation prize – you lose, but thanks for playing. Sort of like the standard 'last call' shout-out at dive bars – you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
I'm of divided mind on the continued existence of the D grade. If we've moved away from the idea of C as average in favor of C as effective minimum, then it's not clear to me why the D still exists. Either you've met the minimum, which is a C or better, or you haven't, which is an F. You're either on the bus or off the bus. The D suggests that you're being dragged along behind the bus, which strikes me as worse.
(Full disclosure: I got a D in Russian in college. In my defense, I was young and stupid. I worked my ass off, but just never got the hang of that #$%*#% language. It felt very much like being dragged along behind the bus.)
The issue is coming up now as we're negotiating some pretty good articulations with four-year colleges, in which they're actually agreeing to take an Associate's degree as a block, rather than picking it apart on a course-by-course basis. To get an Associate's, you have to complete the required number of credits with a GPA of 2.0 (a 'C') or better. Someone could graduate with some 'D' grades, as long as there were enough A's and B's to keep the GPA above water. So if a destination school takes transfers on a course-by-course basis, D grades don't count, but if they take the degree as a block, D's do count.
Our argument – that they should count – is based on parity with 'native' students at the four-year college. If they let their own students reach 'junior' status with some 'D' grades, as long as the overall 2.0 GPA is there, then why should our grads be treated differently? Characteristically, this puts D's in the 'they don't transfer, unless they do' category. They get dragged along behind the bus.
In my faculty days, I gave a few D's here and there. My grading was pretty numerical, so there was a set range of averages that equaled a D. But I was always stumped when asked if a D was 'really' passing.
What does a 'D' mean when you give it? Should we get rid of it?
That said, I don't see how a D serves any kind of REAL purpose. And I like the idea of C as "effective minimum."
As an aside, I took Russian in college too! For three years!
--Maggie (I hate new blogger)
My last semester at ILU I taught a large lecture course in which 40% of the students got Ds and Fs. No one batted an eye. (The course had previously been taught as a gut, and the fact that I took the material very seriously took most of the students by surprise.)
Students understand this are are generally deeply grateful not to have to repeat my course.
I don't give Ds to students who actually need what I teach.
For the record, after only 4 years, I've given up on principle.
-- Cardinal Fang
I think that's a fair reading of the grade (and I liked some of the others, too). I definitely think they should transfer, subject to whatever interpretation the recieving institution gives for D's at their own place. If they only count for credit-hours, do that. If you have to take the course over again, then do that. If it counts-but-barely, then do that.
* No, SLAC doesn't take AP or IB credit for class completion. It counts for credit-hours only.
** Provided you had chosen a major which allowed for 'electives' at any point, which was pretty rare; most people just wound up with more credits than they needed to graduate by taking courses they wanted on top of what was required. We're weird like that.
1. Below average exam scores, but high enough to meet minimum course objectives.
2. Assignments completed imperfectly and not always on time.
3. Some grasp of individual parts of the subject matter, but not of interrelationships and with little insight.
Plus: I don't want to drive over a bridge they designed.
Of course, my course average are squarely in the C range, so our grade inflation might not be as bad as your's.
A student with a learning disability who had waited until her last semester to take a required majors course, and was never really going to be able to do the work entailed, but who came every day and did all the extra credit assignments. The extra credit brought her average up into the vicinity of 60%, but she really got the D as a humanitarian gesture.
A student with reasonable talent who ran afoul of my "late work" policy and thereby drove his average into the ground.
In both cases, and for different reason, I was glad to have the D as an option. I don't give many D's, but I think eliminating them might prompt more C's rather than more F's. Both of these students did significantly worse than the students to whom I gave C's -- I would struggle with giving either of them the same final grade as someone who earned a 78% or 79%. (My institution does not have plus/minus grading.) So the D is helpful.
And, to further muddy the waters, we don't take C- as transfer either. Technically, it is a 1.7, not a 2.0. Just try to get students to understand that. Ha.
Of course, our instructors have all kinds of options to avoid the Fail. RD, Z, DE - you name it, they can make a grade out of it. Any way you spell it, it's not successful completion.
We don't have D's. A-C; then F. And you can only get a C once--then you're out of the program.
Of course, we can be spanked for grad inflation. But what this policy tends to do is get folks who are "dabbling" out the door. If they are serious about chasing a masters degree, they stay.
Most of our students are funded by their employers (and receive additional compensation for courses completed). So there is an incentive to take classes, higgildy piggiggldy. The C policy gets folks to proform or leave.
Then again, this is a graduate school, which can afford to be picky and a pain in the butt.
Of course, grade inflation is not the only route to positive evaluations. They are a necessary, if not entirely sufficient, factor. In addition, one's overall in-class performance must also be appealing, informative, and engaging. But woe be to the adjunct who is a model teacher but a harsh grader - or even a fair grader.
SL's very real point about adminstrators tossing him, and by extension his students, under the academic bus in order to both sidestep grief from "tuition payers" and publish glowing grades for prying eyes also speaks to the inevitable tension between inflexible "standards" vs. the reality of life on the ground. CC students granted soft As & Bs are going be crushed at State U. Forcing adjuncts to please everyone (from students to administrators) robs them and their students. More students slip through courses they should have failed because adminstrators refuse to support adjuncts on the front line. In the end, who is working in the best interest of students?
Fs happen to people who just don't do the work, or cheat. They haven't mastered much of anything except wasting their time and mine.
Sadly, she was getting an education degree and her husband was finishing a PhD in Ed... and they couldn't interpret a syllabus or understand how she could get a D in the class. Sad.
By the way, I didn't change her grade. I did go back and re-calculate it to be sure -- and I'd made a mistake in her favor. I let her keep the D anyway.
Our institution is looking at grades and later success in classes with a particular pre-req, and has already started a complete redesign of one key math class to fix one of the problems. Data (hard as they are to come by from our system) will say if the fix has worked.
Maybe SL is not in an area where anyone cares that a B only means you attended the entire semester. I once had a student who earned a Gentleman's C all the way through calc-3 at a Uni and could not take a derivative. That kid was so screwed.
Despite the hazards, however, I think the D is valuable. Our students are able to count D courses towards graduation, as far as I know (though I will ask the registrar the next time we meet up).
If you get a D mark in my course, you've earned it and in a substantially negative way. Some such students do it by not handing in one or more assignments (two small assignments can be enough to take you from a B- or C+ into the D range) and others do it by substantially sub-par work overall. What frustrates me the most is that so many of these students are in full-out avoidance mode. They stop coming to classes, they don't return my emails or phone calls, they don't pick up their graded papers or midterms, they don't engage at all to improve their performance.
Those students? They deserve their D or F mark and I refuse to feel bad about it.
For the simple reason that no two students ever do the exact same work, I can comfortably say "No, I don't." But I do look at the future demands on this student; if my course is a gen ed kind of requirement, and if the student is doing well in his major field courses, I am more inclined to let a good-faith effort be enough to pass than I am to let the same effort go for a student who will actually need what I teach as the foundation for future work. It's pragmatic for the student; there is no reason that a student who is getting an associate's degree in, say, graphic arts be prevented from graduating by failing my course (I teach a science). The same cannot be said of a student aiming for an AAS in civil engineering technology.
So effort and future need for my course are two of the many factors that go into determining grades in my course. And the students know it right up front. In 30 years of teaching, not one has ever complained.
By the way, HR does not have a clue about any measure of academic quality; those data were developed by the faculty as we developed our "quality enhancement plan" in conjunction with re-accreditation. It was eye opening.
By the way, DD can thank his lucky stars he never saw a grade system with a 0.5 grade: Yep, a D- or F+.
I took the most basic math class the school offered that would fulfill my requirement, and failed it. My teacher gave me a D. I went to every class, took notes, asked questions, and attempted homework.
I also took the most basic biology class the school offered. I attended all but three classes, participated in the labs, took notes, asked questions, did all the homework I could, and my average was in the high 30's at the end. I learned TONS in this class and found it really, really interesting - my teacher was great. This was the last class I needed to graduate with an Associate's degree after going to school at night for five years while I worked full time and part time. I explained to my teacher that I had massive learning disabilities, I was not going into a profession that requires any kind of science, and said if he would just give me a D so I could move on with my life, I promised that if I ever had kids, I would send them to their father with their science homework questions and i would listen and try to learn. He had me write two research papers on ... any body systems we'd studied? and ultimately gave me a D.
That was about 7 years ago. One of the things that stops me from going back to school to get a Bachelor's degree is the idea of having to re-take math and science, since my D's won't transfer.
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Then why in the world would they pass the course? I guess I'm new and idealistic, but dang. Maybe this is why there are too many college grads.