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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Bring back the 'F' to help students succeed

If college students don't do the work, a timely "F" can be useful feedback, writes Louis Haas, a history professor at Middle Tennessee University.

World War I propaganda poster

"Reforms" such as "no deadlines, multiple retakes of assignments, group answers, no penalties for excessive absences, ungrading and so forth" don't help students succeed, he argues in Inside Higher Ed. They need to know that they have to do the work.

Students were told to look at eight World War I propaganda posters to prepare for a class discussion. Asked to write briefly about which one they found most striking, most students cited the "We can do it" poster of Rosie the Riveter. It wasn't one of the eight, because it's from World War II. Looking at posters doesn't take much time, Haas points out. His students hadn't bothered.

Many of his students didn't buy a required book, even though he'd told them the first midterm would be a short essay based on the book. He assigned F's to those who failed the midterm. Some quit the class; the rest bought the book.

Students deserve honest grading, Haas writes.

Many students do not know they have not achieved minimal competency to advance to higher-level classes; an F tells them that. Many do not realize they have taken on too many hours in relation to outside pressures; an F can help pinpoint that overload. Many simply do not realize the amount of work necessary to succeed in college; an F can help indicate that. Many do not realize they are unsuited to their major; an F can help show that, thus allowing them to change majors early on. Many do not realize that college is not for them at a particular moment; an F can help convince them that this is so, thus saving them money in the long run. And the F is a good diagnostic grade for midterm grade reports, which can trigger changed behavior and adviser intervention.

Many students take grades seriously, Hass writes. They "grub for extra credit" and "argue vociferously for points." That concern should be focused on improving their academic effort and achievement.

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