Tuesday, May 08, 2007

W stands for clueless

A completely nonpolitical post

Many schools have two drop deadlines for their students. My college employs a two-deadline system. If you drop a class before the first deadline, your name is expunged from the course roster and no notation is made on your school transcript. After that deadline, however, dropping a class causes a notation of W (for “withdrawal”) to appear on your transcript. After the second drop deadline, however, you cannot drop at all. You simply vanish without a trace nor do you get a W. You must instead get an actual letter grade that will be averaged into your GPA.

Students tend not to like W, but it's better than D or F. There are always a few students, however, who manage to avoid learning anything about grading policies and drop deadlines. Earlier this term, a colleague in my math department received a frantic e-mail from a student who did not grasp the significance of W.
From: student@hotmail.com
Sent: Mon 30-Apr-07 2:21 PM
Subject: Urgent Question

Hello Professor,

I am in your calculus class. I was looking at my unofficial transcript and I noticed that I am receiving a W in the course. Could you e-mail me ASAP and let me know why this is?

Thank You

That's a good one. How could someone who was “in” his calculus class have a W-for-withdrawal notation on her transcript? The professor was happy to provide his student with an explanation:
From: Professor
Sent: Mon 30-Apr-07 4:06 PM
To: student@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: Urgent Question

Hi Student,

You got a W for the class because you aren't in it any more. My last record of you being in class is from February. It is common for instructors to drop students who stop attending.

Your professor

See? A simple and complete answer to the student's perplexed question. If you don't attend for a month, the instructor drops your ass from the class. Please note that, as a caring educator, my colleague refrained from pointing out that W in this case also stood for sadly clueless.

W is clueless! W is absent without leave! W is a failure!

Did I remember to mention that this post is not at all political?

5 comments:

John Armstrong said...

I actually don't like summarily dropping students. As far as I'm concerned, their apathy earns them their F fair and square, and I'm glad to give it to them.

PlatoisDerrida, said...

Zeno,

Entertaining post. I had a similar experience today: A student wanted to know if a zero on a major class project would lower his grade in the class. When I explained to him that zeros are bad, he countered by pointing out the the assignment was only worth 15% of the course grade. Therefore, it couldn't really have much effect on his final course grade.

ChemTeach said...

Finals at my community college are in two weeks. I had to explain to a student last night that it was mathematically impossible (I thought of you Zeno) for her to get the required 55% in lab because she had missed so many. Without a 55 in lab, students will receive an F in the course regardless of their lecture grade (which in her case was a C).

*sigh*

She argued and tried to bargin a little bit, but alas to no avail. Admittedly she took it pretty well when she realized I was holding firm.

I wish students would read the syllabus where the course requirements are clearly stated. I wish students would reread it throughout the semester too.

Zeno said...

John, I would be perfectly happy to assign F's to students who simply stop attending and don't take the trouble to drop the class. There are, however, other issues. We know that some students merely want the units to appear on their records as "in progress" for the duration of the semester in order to qualify for financial aid. One of my students was quite explicit about it, although she was diligent enough to attend regularly so as not to get thrown off the gravy train. (There's not a whole lot of gravy, but apparently it was enough for her.) I seem to have another student like that in my current algebra class; on the last exam, she wrote down her name, sat there for several minutes, and then handed it in. A solid zero!

That's probably the main reason that our school has a policy of encouraging instructors to drop students who stop coming to class.

Plato, I wonder if your student would have appreciated the difference in a grade of 91 versus a grade of 76. Like Chemteach's student, the ones who don't understand how to compute their grades are the students most desperately in need of the education they're blowing off.

TheBrummell said...

It is common for instructors to drop students who stop attending.

How odd. I've never met before a professor who was even allowed to drop a student from a class for any reason other than the student had requested a drop but couldn't complete it through normal registration systems for some technical 'bug' reason.

We know that some students merely want the units to appear on their records as "in progress" for the duration of the semester in order to qualify for financial aid.
...That's probably the main reason that our school has a policy of encouraging instructors to drop students who stop coming to class.


Ah, that explains it, yes. This also explains the strongly negative reaction some people have to getting a W - I was always confused, since as far as I can tell a W just means "had something else they needed to do" which is a far cry from "failed".