What this has come to mean is that many of those underprepared students take required "core" courses—like composition and rhetoric courses—and they struggle to earn a C.
Unfortunately, that C often doesn't indicate proficiency and the students remain underprepared for higher-level courses.
Inside Higher Ed reports that 2 years ago the University of Arizona (UA) hired an education technology company—Civitas—that uses predictive analytics to track student behavior in an effort to increase student retention and graduation rates.
One thing Civitas discovered is that performance in UA's required courses was linked to whether students would drop out or graduate. To wit:
- Students earning an A or a B in an introductory English composition and rhetoric course had a 67% percent chance of graduating.
- Students earning a C in the course had a 48% chance of graduating..
- 8% received a D, F or W (withdrew).
Those data indicate that success in this particular required course accurately predicts the likelihood of dropping out or graduating.
So, what's to be done? Make those students earning a C or less to repeat the course before taking upper-level courses?
Using data to require students to repeat a required course if they earn a C would suggest that mastery of the content is more important than simply passing the course. That's a good idea. In industry, it's called "quality control."
Existing data suggest that at UA minority and underrepresented students are most likely to receive low grades in required courses. Sadly, UA's graduation rate for students of those groups is lower than the rate for White students. Entirely unsurprising, however.
Doesn't assigning a C to a student who has really earned a D or F do a disservice to that student? Isn't that unjust, revealing a fundamental lack of academic honesty?
There's another angle to this story.
When a "C" in a required course can accurately predict that a student is unlikely to graduate, what does that grade actually mean?
It might signal grade inflation, that is, the student really achieved at a lower level but the professor didn't accurately represent that student's actual achievement. It could be that the professor:
- graded effort, not achievement;
- graded the entire class on a curve, ensuring higher grades for every student;
- felt sorry for the underprepared student and didn't want to hurt his/her self-esteem; and/or,
- feared retaliation for assigning the actual grade earned.
Then, too, in this age of grade inflation, what is an average grade that students receive in most universities and colleges? According to GradeInflation.com, the average grade point average for all undergraduate institutions in the United States in 2013 was ~3.2. That's a solid B.
So, those professors are accurately reporting student achievement, the students are "passed" on to take higher-level courses, and everybody's happy?
Too bad universities and colleges aren't sued for educational malpractice.
Let the discussion begin...
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