Monday, August 22, 2011

Do they need to show up?

For many years, my college's policy has been that students who don't show up during the first two weeks of class are supposed to be dropped by the instructor. We also have an attendance policy which allows faculty to drop students who miss more than two weeks of class at any time. Whether any of this gets enforced is up to the faculty member (or at least it has been till this year).

The college has taken more than its fair share of grants from educational consortia, and the result is mountains of data which conclusively demonstrate a strong correlation between attendance and passing a course with the CC student population. Given our students' numerous obstacles, I had always thought this was one of those "water is wet" conclusions. But some of my colleagues disagree. They think that because of the type of students we serve, we should give them every single break possible, whether that's missing several class sessions, taking late work indefinitely, or allowing re-dos of assignments for as many times as it takes for them to get a passing grade. To me, this is not really passing as much as it is throwing a nearly infinite number of darts at a board until one of them sticks.

Just today I got an email from Steve Snowflake, who disappeared for the entire last four weeks of class with no explanation last spring in an eight-week term which went from January to early March, missed the major research project and final exam, and also didn't take several quizzes. He wanted me to change his grade from an F to an I and allow him to make up everything he missed. He said another faculty member had told him to approach all his professors from last spring since he had a medical issue within his family. Given that he missed almost 60% of the graded material and could have dropped the course online at any time up to the last two weeks, I declined.

Now the administrative gurus want to make attendance even more restrictive. The new policy will require faculty to drop students who don't attend the first week of class. The think tanks have new studies to prove that students who don't show during the first week are far more likely to drop or fail. Over the years, looking at my own class stats bears this out as well. I'm already the meanie who follows the attendance policy the first two weeks since that takes students off my roster. After that, I let them fail if they quit coming since a withdrawal and an F look the same in my state statistics. I am evaluated based on those statistics.

Some of my colleagues are up in arms. They think professors are giving up on students if they follow this policy, that we are (and this is almost a direct quote) "making students too responsible and not being responsible enough as faculty." Just typing that made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Is it unreasonable to expect students to come to class? Do you think my college has become too hard-line? Or are some of my colleagues running their own snowflake machines?


  1. I wish my uni allowed me to drop students...on their heads.

  2. @FML: Haven't they been dropped on their heads enough?

    @EnglishDoc: That some of your colleagues are up in arms about students taking responsibility scares the whiskey out of me. And the gin. And the tequila. And the . . ., well you get the idea. We have a very strict policy. No show the first day, you're dropped. Period. If there are more butts than seats available, I drop no-shows through the entire first week (our Add/Drop period). I'm not sure if we're allowed to do this, but I have yet to be called out on it.
    With the snowflake machines running at full tilt, it sounds like you should have a great ski season.

  3. You want to fuck with their little pea brains, EnglishDoc?

    Let them avoid class, but mention stuff in lecture they would never pick up on just doing the readings, then make the lecture material integral to passing any of the tests.

    Or just give random pop quizes that count for 45% of the grade.

  4. This is wonderful news. We might not be able to stop the problem of grade inflation, but ensuring the buggers are actually attending class is really important -- why not just purchase an "A" if class attendance is not required at all? Fill out random history papers or sociology analyses or random lab numbers and call it a day? Participation is mandatory for one to gain an education. I applaud the efforts of your school.

  5. "making students too responsible and not being responsible enough as faculty."

    I think they have this exactly back to front. Dropping students automatically after one week of non-attendance isn't giving them responsibility. It's babying them by trying to enforce using rules what they should be doing voluntarily in the first place.

    Personally, I don't give a damn about attendance. They just need to demonstrate they know their shit, and turn up on time for tests. I don't really care about the source of their learning.

  6. ProfHacker has a post about "helicopter faculty" today (which strikes me as straying pretty close to CM's usual territory, though of course in more polite language). I'd say your colleagues qualify, in spades.

  7. That comment had a link when I previewed it. Here it is again, the quick and dirty way:

  8. Maybe I've just been at high default schools, but the federal government (gettin' all up in everybody's bidness) requires schools to report students who don't show up the first two weeks. I've heard it called "Attended/Never Attended Roster" and "12th class day report." The thinking is if a student doesn't show up they get their free gubmint money yanked and they get kicked out.

  9. @Sawyer: we report "never attended"s and "stopped attending"s, but only at the end of the semester, as part of final grading (at which point they've probably spent the loan money). To the best of my knowledge we can't drop non-attendees; they have to do it themselves (and can still get at least a partial refund for several weeks after the beginning of the semester). Your school's approach sounds more humane.

  10. @Sawyer: That's been part of the reason I take such a hard line on attendance those first two weeks. I have had students actually come to me after talking with someone in the financial aid office or our counseling center asking me to reinstate them so that they could drop themselves after whatever that magic date is that allows them to keep the financial aid money. I am not going to defraud the taxpayers just because Absent Albert has already spent his financial aid money with no intention of actually going to school. He can damn well pay it back just as I'm still paying my student loans.


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