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Freshman Evaluations to Focus on Failing Students

By Stacey E. Blau
Associate News Editor

At Wednesday's faculty meeting, the faculty discussed a new proposal that would eliminate the present system of freshman performance evaluations and replace it with a process that focuses "solely on students performing at the non-passing level," according to a draft of the proposal.

The faculty will vote on the proposal at the next faculty meeting in May.

The proposal, made by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, suggests that freshman evaluations, presently filed twice in the first semester and once the second semester, should be limited to "students who are having trouble," said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Bonnie J. Walters.

Either a generic or tailored message called a "fifth week flag," which will be sent as a letter or as electronic mail, would notify failing students of their performance.

The current evaluation process has been plagued with problems such as the lack of timeliness, excess paperwork, poor comment quality, and a low compliance rate, according to the proposal.

Unofficial grades recorded

Also included in the proposal is a measure to unofficially record first-semester grades of freshmen the same way that second-semester grades are recorded.

"I think that they would be a very good advising tool" for students, Walters said. "Some students allow themselves to be deceived by pass/no record grading. But they need to work just as hard."

First term internal grades would serve to reassure students who perform well and do not receive evaluations, Walters said. The grades would also alert students who performed marginally well that "their efforts need to be stronger," she said.

The proposal also suggests expanding the Freshman Watch program, a system that would involve collecting non-passing test scores and class average information from recitation instructors in the science core subjects and major subjects taken by freshmen, such as Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001). This information would then be distributed to freshman advisers.

"I like the fact that the evaluations will concentrate on students who are having difficulty," said Undergraduate Association Vice President and UA President-elect Carrie R. Muh '96.

"The evaluation forms as they are now are obviously not working," said Muh, who also serves on the CUP.

Concerns for borderline students

Walters said she hopes that if instructors have fewer evaluations to complete, they will be encouraged to be more specific and thorough in their evaluations.

But some have voiced concerns that students performing just above passing might be forgotten about under the new system.

Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Kerry A. Emanuel PhD '76 said that he worries about "students who are passing barely."

"That kind of student might be missed under this system," and it still might be important to reach those students to help them improve as well, Emanuel said.

Emanuel said that he might like to see the fall mid-term evaluations maintained for everybody because they are filed "right when study habits are being formed" by freshmen.

"I approve of the spirit" of the proposal but "it would sort of counter the entire idea of interaction with your instructor," something which the present evaluation system encourages, said Noemi L. Giszpenc '98. "If you're on the borderline, you might be missed."

Another aspect of the present system which Giszpenc said she likes is "the fact that if you're doing well you get positive feedback and encouragement."

System isn't working'

"I think they need a better system of feedback to freshmen, and the present evaluation isn't working," said Samuel R. Madden '98. The evaluations are "pretty worthless if you're doing fine in the class. If you're failing, you know you're failing." So the forms seem to serve little purpose in either case, he said.

One way of dealing with failing students would be to have instructors or advisers sit down and talk to students about their performance, Madden said. "Advisers don't do a very good job of contacting their freshmen," he said.

Madden said he favors the institution of internal grades for the first semester. "It would be good if they just sent them out and you could see your grades."

Anita N. Krishnan '98 said that she favors the elimination of freshman evaluations. "The teachers just write what my test scores are," and tell very little about students' performance, she said. "I think probably the best way [to do evaluations] would be for everyone below a B" to receive a performance evaluation, she said.

Krishnan said that she did not want grades to be internally recorded. "I don't think it's a good idea. Pass/fail is a good thing," she said. "I got my grades anyway. It's sort of comforting, though, just to know" that the grades are more private, she said.

Muh said that she does not think the proposal disregards borderline students. "One of the purposes of the Freshman Watch is to help those students, too," she said.

Students will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the proposal at two sessions in the Student Center next week: one on Wednesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in room 407 and the other on Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in West Lounge.