Friday, April 22, 2016

I feel a grade change a'coming

I feel a grade change a'coming round the bend...

My student, Anxious Amber, disclosed to me early on that she has a host of mental illnesses, and attempted to hand me doctor's notes and prescription bottles (yes, really) to prove this fact.

I told her that college policy required she go through Disability Services, and do the official registration paperwork. I told her that legally (yes, I confirmed this with the department) I COULD NOT give her special accommodations until this paperwork was filed. This paperwork remains un-filed.

Never the less, I sat down with her, and suggested that if she needed to leave the class early, or take a break, she could complete the exercises from the textbook, and turn them in for credit. This is similar to how I handle absences for other students, so it was consistent.

She... has not been doing so well. Her participation grade is down (she tends not to do the preparation, or turn in make up work, or speak up in class...), her written work fails to follow directions, and she regularly turns things in late.

By with withdrawal date, Anxious Amber had managed to pull up to a solid D, and I was hoping that she would continue the upward trend. I did not urge her to drop.

She emailed me today, asking if her participation grade could be raised when her disability paperwork went through. I don't think it should. She did not honor the terms of the one accommodation that I was able to offer her, and she has not completed the work!

I have a call into Disability Services, and to my department chair to see what I should be doing.

Right now, my email outlines the ways that she can work on raising her grade, but at this point, it is a hail Mary pass at best. I feel for her: many people I love have struggled with depression, anxiety, and the rest of that stew. But if she can't work with me to figure out how to get the work done, there is very little I can do for her.

Advice from the Misery is always welcome.

--Academic Madame Librarian


  1. This strikes me as a case where following advice from your chair and/or disability office is, indeed, crucial, since there are legal issues involved.

    If it were left up to me, I think I'd do what you're doing/propose to do: insist that the student follow procedure, offer informal accommodations where appropriate (i.e. where you can offer the same to all students), hold the student responsible for what she does and doesn't do in response to all of the above.

    I try to do all of the above, because I think they support a student's doing what (s)he needs to move on in life in general, and live with a disability specifically: identify hir areas of strength and weakness (including any disabilities and the things they make it harder for hir to do), and find ways to build on the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses. We've got diagnostic labels for a lot of things that once would have been seen as personality quirks, and since that can make it easier to identify possible coping mechanisms ranging from medication to various sorts of talk therapy/brain (re)training, that's probably a good thing.

    But the basic challenges of becoming/being/remaining a mature, functional, contributing human being haven't really changed, and they require things like communicating and taking responsibility for solving one's own problems to the extent possible, and locating and availing oneself of appropriate help when not. If such help is not available or difficult to access, that's another issue, but it doesn't sound like that's the case here; it does, however, sound like the student may have conditions which interfere with her getting help, which is something of a catch-22, but also part of the complex of problems she's going to need to figure out how to address.

    That may be (often is) a slow process, and there may be nonreversable consequences/losses along the way, including failing your class. That, too, strikes me as part of the process. Sometimes figuring these things out just plain takes time, and time often costs money in one way or another. I suspect that parents, therapists, and students themselves are often tempted to treat attending college as part of a treatment routine, seeing it as something that can provide structure and a sense (and appearance) of normality to a young person who is floundering. But there are potential costs to that approach if the student isn't really in a position to cope with college. Some of the consequences (e.g. a transcript that records a failing semester) may be addressed/erased at the administrative level (e.g. a dean or similar allowing a retroactive withdrawal), but I don't think they can or should be addressed at the instructor level.

    1. Cassandra, this is wonderful. Much of it applies also to situations that don't involve disabilities per se, but non-academic factors that transiently or chronically interfere with academic performance. Death of a loved one, financial woes, caring for a relative, etc. are familiar factors.

      Students sometimes learn when and how to ask for help by suffering consequenses of not having asked for help when they needed it. I've never been part of a retroactive withdrawal, but I've written several letters explaining a blotch on a transcript. Sometimes the students come out of the experience much stronger for it, and I can point to the evidence in my letter.

  2. This sounds like what I'm dealing with right now. I've got two students who, no matter how many times I tell them otherwise, think that emailing me and explaining their various (mental) health problems, and sending the accommodations letter that was first written in September at the beginning of the academic year, is sufficient for being excused from missing the final exam a couple of days ago. No matter how many times I tell them I need something, ANYTHING, from the university's Disability Services (not a well-named unit, if you ask me) therapist/counselor as a corroboration, a resource that I know they have access to because they've previously written their midterms in the Disability Services exam writing rooms, they simply repeat their previous email in response.

    Accommodations letters at my uni tend to be very clear in expectations of students:
    - the student and course instructor have to a priori agree on an alternate/extended timeline for assignments, midterms and exams, and it does not excuse the student from actually doing the course work; i.e. the student still has to do everything that the other students did to get their course grades.
    - any work/assignments that are not completed, without a prior arrangement for an extended deadline etc., or in violation of the previously agreed-upon accommodation, are subject to the same rules and regulations as for all other students (i.e. a medical note explaining student absence on the day of the final exam etc.). This appears to be the part of the accommodations my students are trying to get me to ignore.

  3. At my joint, it is thus:

    The accommodation must be reasonable and not alter the fundamental educational function of the assignment, as determined by the ADA coordinator, the course director, and the head of curriculum.

    Accommodations may not be applied retroactively.

    Never give an accommodation without paperwork having been properly filed, lest it set the stage for it to be continued in perpetuity.

  4. Ogre, where do you teach? I'd like to work there. It sounds like they have it together for the most part.

    1. If by "they" you mean our Disability Services office, yeah, they're pretty good. I expect other places do it right, too.

      Here's the basis for my last point: "Disability means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment." (36.104 Definitions.)

      Providing an accommodation is tantamount to regarding someone as having a disability. That type of thing can have a way of snowballing and becoming self-fulfilling (c.f. "the soft bigotry of low expectations", or simply of "different expectations").

      As for applying an accommodation retroactively, how can we do that except by allowing a "do-over" for a test or assignment? Next question: how far back? A week? Month? The first day of the term? To the beginning of the student's time with us? That's simply unreasonable, and if we can't go that far, there is no basis for going back even a day. The bright line is the moment the paperwork is filed and in order, and ever after.

      So, no paperwork, no accommodation. The only time we've given a do-over for an ADA case was when a student didn't get extended time on the test, which was our fault, not hirs.

  5. Permit me to share my testimony on this platform. I didn't do well in my finals.Mike introduced me to some hacker lo and behold this guy got me up to a GPA of 3.90. He can change grades also, database hack, clearing of criminal records, credit, bank transfer and all forms of hack

    1. Wow, I see you learned to substitute fraud for work. I hope that this hacker took you for all he or she could.