Friday, February 6, 2015

Making things easier for students: is that always the right thing to do?

     Over the years, IVC instructors have heard reports that counselors sometimes tell students to take some courses elsewhere than at IVC. (See Blast from the Past: Sucker Punch.)
     Why would they do that? Because, of course, the courses are “easier” at those other colleges.
     That’s seriously wrong advice. It’s seriously unprofessional. The truth is that some colleges offer courses in some subjects in which students learn little. Students should take the courses at colleges where that isn’t likely to happen.
     Counselors think of themselves as advocates for students. (Well, we all think of ourselves that way.) Our counselors’ kind of advocacy, however, seems inevitably to produce ways to make things easier for students, and that isn’t always in students’ interests.
     Here’s the latest such effort. As things stand, the college (district) has both a course repeat policy and an “academic renewal” policy. I call ‘em “do-over” policies. Students who get bad grades want “do-overs.” And the college/district allows that, up to a point. You don't want to go too far in this direction. Obviously, in an atmosphere of unlimited do-overs, many students will just keep screwing up, failing to do the work they need to do to move on.
     Right now, if a student received a D or F in, say, her Intro to Philosophy course, she can retake the course, thereby “suppressing” the original F and replacing it (in GPA calculations) with the new grade. The only restriction is that the student must redo the course within the SOCCCD.
     “Academic Renewal” is another kind of “do-over” policy. Suppose that a student, owing to a lack of seriousness or maturity, has a disastrous semester at the college. Years later (three years, as per our existing policy), the kid has straightened herself/himself out. She takes a few classes successfully. Things are looking up!

     Alas, she is saddled with those nasty old grades from her prodigal youth! What to do?
     In my day, there was nothing to do. You screwed up, is all. Existing policies at the college, however, as per Title 5, are more forgiving. In today's community college, a kid can apply for “academic renewal,” wiping away the unfortunate semester entirely. She can do a “do-over” of that nasty old semester. As things stand at IVC, academic renewal of a semester is all or nothing: a student can’t pick and choose the courses to be suppressed from that semester. All of the grades are suppressed, or none of them. That’s the price the kid pays for screwing up the first time. And so students have a strong motivation to get their shit together right from the start. Good!
     Enter the counselors. These policies make things too hard for students, they say. That kid who got a D or F in philosophy—why must she retake the course at our colleges? Why not at some other college?
     And what if our formerly flaky student, during her lost years, actually got an A in Sociology, along with various Ds and Fs? Why can’t she keep that A and just do over the D and F courses?
     And why must she wait three years?
     In my view, you don’t make students more mature and serious by creating more do-over opportunities for them. That sort of policy change eliminates a powerful incentive not to screw up. It will make matters—the prevailing profound flakitude of many of our students—worse, not better. It will work against (to use the current buzzword) our "completion agenda" (i.e., our efforts to have students succeed in acquiring certificates and degrees, etc.).
     Evidently, many of my colleagues disagree. More do-overs for students, they say.
     This is the issue that the IVC Academic Senate is presently wrestling with.
     Below are some graphics that have been provided to senators mostly by advocates of the proposed changes.

From Title 5
*Yes, this was the argument explicitly offered by one soon-to-be-retiring counselor during a recent senate meeting. If other colleges are doing it, it's gotta be a good thing, I guess.


Anonymous said...

Do you suppose these students will expect "do-overs" by employers? Get fired for poor performance; oh, my bad, I get a do-over. At some point someone will hold these students responsible for their failures, and mommy and daddy won't be there to bail them out.

Anonymous said...

Nice article, love it!

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