The Failure of Archived Failure

Friends in the noble, all pervasive, eternal profession of education I am open to comment on some of my thoughts.

THE FAILURE OF ARCHIVING FAILURE.

Extra counseling and mentoring definitely help students. But professors can make significant changes by altering the structure of evaluation by ceasing to archive failures. An instructor can discuss weaknesses with the student to dismiss any illusions of incompetency and can show the student what has to be done to overcome a weakness. This should be done for all student work including the final exam, which at present is not critiqued.

Archived failures on transcripts hang like stones around the former student’s neck. Archived negative data has hampered some, even though they overcame that archived weakness. In sorting out job applicants, the letter “F” stands out on a transcript. It can eliminate a qualified applicant, maybe even the best qualified for that job. An employer receiving a graduate’s transcript only has the right to know competences, which apply to the job being sought.

The gathering of negative information is a tool of control. Some instructors have used “F” to threaten and force the student to meet their particular expectation and prejudice. The educational goal of promoting independent thinking should not include threats. In no way does archived failure help the student, and later, the graduate. Perhaps such failure will make students more attracted to an education at the library or online where there is no archived failure.

Al Christensen teaching for 55 years at a community college

Some students are incompetent and do nothing to overcome weaknesses.

You’re suggesting they all get A’s?

Professors threatening students is a completely different topic.

Seems like you would prefer Brown University’s grading system, where any grade lower than C (or S for that grading option) becomes no credit and disappears from the transcript.

https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/registrar/course-enrollment/grades

I had looked into Brown U grading system, it is a step in the right direction and would eliminate archived failure. Student control of their transcript entries would also be a solution, but it sounds crazy. I have a blog that discusses two student rights titled Student Instructor Concerns.
Appreciate your feedback, thanks.
Al Christensen

It would be more helpful to others if you give detail about what you would propose to replace current grading systems and transcript information, rather than merely saying that you are (apparently) against F grades. Others here are not necessarily going to interpret “student control of their transcript entries” the same as what you mean, nor will they necessarily find your blog that you mention.

If ultimately the transcript were for the student’s use, it would make sense to assume that the student should have something to say in assembling the information that goes on the transcript. The graduate in his new suit wants to present the best possible impression. The transcript he carries should show his best work, not his failures. Perhaps the graduate had a “rocky” start but later reached a high level of competency. This is all the employer needs to know or perhaps has a right to know. One of the major ideas behind our democracy is the fresh start, getting another chance and the opportunity to still triumph after repeated tries. Persevering and learning from experience is presented to youngsters as an inspirational model. Why would an instructor bother to put a negative label on student work that is not yet at competency level? What student would want the instructor to vouch for less than competent work? Even if an F grade could be made up with an A the F is still on the transcript. Does the institution have the right or obligation to keep information on the transcript the student does not want on there? Would it be a better looking transcript with course listings for all courses attended and the final evaluations the graduate wanted to show? Letting the student select is in no way changing course evaluations. It’s just letting him control what he wants presented to employers. The information on how long the student took to reach the grade level is retained and an A gotten the first time would probably look more impressive than an A received after a few tries.

The student is not only learning skills but also building confidence. The student does not need to have negative criticisms hanging around his neck like millstones. These are academic credentials, not information furnished for a security clearance, where the applicant’s weaknesses must be known. The graduate is presenting credentials to substantiate competence. Credentials that he paid and worked for. Who would pay to be exposed on paper? The student-controlled transcript would allow a preparation somewhat like a Prep school. The student-controlled transcript would create the same opportunities as a Prep school and would also look the same as the transcript of a clever student who audited courses before taking the course for an assured high grade. The student-controlled transcript would give a student the same opportunity as the rich and the clever.

So I’m not an expert, but I’ve never asked for or been given a school transcript when interviewing prospective employees. I know companies sometimes ask for degree verification letters. I guess they might want a transcript to verify GPA or whatnot. But I can’t imagine anyone taking the time to look for Fs on the transcript. Life’s too short, you know?

I guess I’d be more concerned that students suppose their failures will be on the “permanent record” and that will harm them in the future. In my experience as an interviewer and as an interviewee, that’s just not true. Generally speaking, GPA matters for:

  • applying to other schools and
  • maybe your first job out of college.

After that, the value of education consists in whether it taught you how to learn and the connections you made along the way. Or at least that’s what I’ve experienced.

Seems like a very verbose (and less easy to read) way of saying that you want the student to be able to choose which courses and associated grades appear on the transcript, somewhat analogous to “score choice” with SAT scores, or some types of occupational licensing tests where it only matters that you eventually passed, not how many times you tried and failed before.

Some questions that you may want to answer:

  • If the student has earned a degree with a major, would you require that the student show courses with passing grades that fulfill the degree and major requirements? Obviously, this would not include failed courses, but some students may not want to show C or C- grades that may have been used to fulfill requirements.

  • Some situations may require or prefer non-slow learning. A student with a history of needing to take courses multiple times before passing may be less desirable to employers or subsequent schools than a student with a history of passing each course the first time. Do you consider this not to be a valid concern?

  • If a student’s transcript shows an apparently light course load some semesters (especially at a college where full time enrollment is the norm, i.e. not community colleges or local/region based commuter universities where part time enrollment is common), then would those looking at the transcript assume that there were failed or otherwise hidden courses those semesters? That could cause students who actually did enroll part time and did not fail any courses to struggle with the assumption that the “missing” courses were hidden failed courses.

  • If course/grade choice on transcripts leads to more grade inflation in reported/exposed grades, then some situations could have greater compression at the top of the scale, resulting in selection being made more on the basis of other factors which may or may not be better correlates to the desired merit and achievement that is the (at least nominal) goal of the selection process. How would you address that?

In many cases, employers hiring new college graduates or interns treat GPA this way: look for a GPA greater than a cutoff (often 3.0) as one of the preliminary screens to see who gets prioritized for an interview. Beyond that, GPA typically does not matter, and specific grades typically matter even less. Some specific employers may be different, of course.

1 Like

I don’t want to go to a doctor who got to hide F grades on their way to med school. Same with an engineer designing a bridge that I’m driving over or the architect designing my house.

IMO, no failing grades just leads to rampant grade inflation and even less of a way to assess applicants for grad school and first jobs.

I’m all for students being able to retake courses and the opportunity for growth, but IMO, what you are suggesting lessens the value and integrity of the degree.

Thanks for your questions. I will try to answer them

Seems like a very verbose (and less easy to read) way of saying that you want the student to be able to choose which courses and associated grades appear on the transcript, somewhat analogous to “score choice” with sat scores, or some types of occupational licensing tests where it only matters that you eventually passed, not how many times you tried and failed before.

Every time a student enters a grade on the transcript the number of times taken would be entered, it is part of the evaluation.

Some questions that you may want to answer:
• If the student has earned a degree with a major, would you require that the student show courses with passing grades that fulfill the degree and major requirements? Obviously, this would not include failed courses, but some students may not want to show c or c- grades that may have been used to fulfill requirements.

• To improve a required grade in a major a student could take the course again for a better grade, which might take more time depending when the course is taught again, it is the student’s choice.

• Some situations may require or prefer non-slow learning. A student with a history of needing to take courses multiple times before passing may be less desirable to employers or subsequent schools than a student with a history of passing each course the first time. Do you consider this not to be a valid concern?

• Someone viewing the transcript seeing multiple times a course was taken would take that into consideration. The student can be advised how repetition of courses might be viewed, deciding would still be up to the student.

• If a student’s transcript shows an apparently light course load some semesters (especially at a college where full time enrollment is the norm, i.e. Not community colleges or local/region based commuter universities where part time enrollment is common), then would those looking at the transcript assume that there were failed or otherwise hidden courses those semesters? That could cause students who actually did enroll part time and did not fail any courses to struggle with the assumption that the “missing” courses were hidden failed courses.

• As mentioned, all the times a course was taken will be on the transcript this is not like a part time student transcript with no repetitions.

• If course/grade choice on transcripts leads to more grade inflation in reported/exposed grades, then some situations could have greater compression at the top of the scale, resulting in selection being made more on the basis of other factors which may or may not be better correlates to the desired merit and achievement that is the (at least nominal) goal of the selection process. How would you address that?

• Choosing transcript entries would not inflate evaluations by instructors; it would result in a better GPA. I would agree a student taking a heavy load in a heavy program getting excellent evaluations first time would look the most impressive. My proposals would allow any student to assemble the best transcript they can by putting their best face forward with no deceptions concerning what is shown. They would appear as a slow learner, but determined to do their best.

I have been verbose in trying to describe what I believe to be one of two student rights. The other right is a complete critique of all work including the final. I did a critique and explanation of grade levels. I addressed the right of grade entries as best as I could by helping students keep (F) off their transcripts.