Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Did Not Attend" Grades

A friend of mine teaches at a university where one of your grade-assignment options is "DNA," which stands for "did not attend." If you assign a student a grade of DNA, you have to specify the last date on which they attended class. If that date is early enough in the term, the student is retroactively withdrawn from the class. I don't know how common this is, but I don't think this is an option at my school. At least, nobody told me it was at the bullshit new faculty orientation thing I had to attend.

One immediate drawback to the DNA grade is that you have to know that the student never attended, and you have to know when the student stopped. For a number of reasons, I don't collect that information in any detailed or rigorous way.

Why would you assign this grade? Apparently, the DNA grade can fuck up the student's financial aid. You have to maintain a certain credit load in oder to get certain scholarships or student loans. A grade of DNA retroactively reduces the student's courseload. This can make the student retroactively ineligible for financial aid for that semester. Obviously, this can cause all sorts of problems for the student. The DNA grade can be worse than an F in profound ways.

I guess the logic is that Fs are for people who try and fail; DNAs are for people who blow off the entire class. It is, apparently, much, much worse to blow off the class than it is to make a failing attempt to complete it.

I kind of have a problem with this. I see why you'd want a complete failure to attend class to have certain consequences for the student.* I see why you'd want there to be a failing grade on the transcript. I see why you'd want the medical school or the nursing school or whoever to know it's there. I see why you'd want it to be academically troublesome for the student, and insofar as these academic troubles cause personal troubles, it seems to me that the personal troubles are sort of warranted. You didn't attend class all semester and now your parents are upset with you? That seems right to me. You didn't attend class all semester and now you're not getting into nursing school? That seems right to me, too. These things don't seem to me to count against assigning the F. They seem like the negative consequences rightfully associated with earning an F.

But I guess I think getting the student's financial aid yanked is going too far. That consequence seems far worse than what is deserved.

What do the Smokers think?

--Mr. Zero

* I am assuming that there are no mitigating or extenuating circumstances.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Financial aid fraud is a big problem. At my university, the only time a I get a title IV request about a student is if they get all failing grades. Then they want to know why this is and when the last date the student attended.

Part of this is part of federal law and how financial aid works. I take attendance on the first day. After that, I have quizzes, papers, and midterm exams. So, what I do when asked is this: If they didn't attend on the first day, I say DNA. If they did some work, then I put the date that work was submitted.

Student who get subsidized student loans but don't go to school are stealing tax dollars. Now, those who fail are too, but for different reasons.

I would bet that you are only asked about DNA if the student got failing grades in all their classes.

On another note, if I have the option of giving an F or a W (withdraw) grade, I always give the W UNLESS there is a strong reason for the F so as to no prevent a student from coming back to school.

To recap Zero: I don't think you quite have all the financial aid facts. It is the law to report those students who took financial aid and never attended. So, just pay a little bit of attention at the start of the semester and it will make things a bit easier.

BunnyHugger said...

At my school, we always have to enter last date of attendance for anyone who gets a failing grade (or substitute last assignment submitted if we don't keep attendance records). This is used for the financial aid rules that you mention. I had assumed everyone had to do that, but I guess not! We're always told that it's required to comply with federal rules.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 10:30,

Yes. That is an important piece of the puzzle.

Anonymous said...

Another reason it might be important is that the school may not want (or think it accurate) to include DNA students--especially if they were DNA in all their classes--in retention data as well as other measures like actual failure rates in courses. A student who never showed up at school cannot be retained, really. (I don't know whether this kind of stuff, esp. retention, can affect things like accreditation. But if the school wants a picture of "student-success" then separating real failure from mere non-attendance is a legitimate distinction.)

And ditto to anon 10:30 re: financial aid.

(My school has recently instituted a policy which allows instructors to drop first day no-shows who make no prior contact with the prof. I don't exactly like this because shit can happen, but I think there's a couple days' grace period for the prof to use it, and it sends a reasonable message to the students both to come to class and to communicate when shit happens. N.B. retention and basic student-preparedness are significant issues at my school.)

Anonymous said...

I have direct experience with this legal requirement from my undergraduate years. When I started college out of high school, I had no financial support from my family and insufficient sense to realize my financial situation at college was untenable. The result was the financial necessity of having to withdraw from school in the middle of my third semester or stop buying food. Unfortunately, the timing of my departure lead to all of my government aid and government student loans being sent back. My financial situation was thus made much worse as I was deeply in dept to my former college. I was able to resume school several years later and am now working on my M.A., but this is nothing short of miraculous given my circumstances (I have a loving partner to thank). The penalties built into the DNA requirement are generally understandable, but as with any system that does not take circumstance into consideration, the effects can be cruel beyond justification in specific cases.

Eric said...

Having taught at a school where DNA grades are given, I would point out that you are supposed to take (fairly) detailed rolls.

The reason given (to me) by an administrator for DNA grades is precisely what you assume: to allow financial aid to be pulled for repeat offenders. I once had a student sign up for my class at this school FOUR different semesters. Each time, he would sign up and (I assume) get a loan check, but never attend class and get an F. He was clearly gaming the system: taking money for a course he planned not to take, for a degree he did not care about getting (this was confirmed to me by another student, who was his ex-spouse).

Many schools that do not have DNA grades have another option: my current institution requires that I enter into the school's records (the same thing I used to post grades) any student who fails to attend for the first two weeks of the course. Those who sign up and miss the first two weeks are forcibly dropped, and forfeit their student aid.

Mr. Zero said...

I guess I don't get why the "gamers" who take student aid but consistently get Fs wouldn't have their student aid revoked or be kicked out of school altogether, on a purely academic basis.

And I guess I sort of think that if the school wants me to keep careful track of who attends my classes and who doesn't, they ought to either pay me more or let me teach smaller classes. Or both.

Anonymous said...

Zero, 10:30 here:

I would be willing to bet that your university has an attendance policy. I would also be willing to bet that you have a faculty handbook that lists your primary duties. I bet if you look there, you will find some language about following university policies and the like. I would even bet that your university has a syllabus policy that requires you have an attendance policy on the syllabus.

It isn't a lot to ask you to pay attention to who is in your class at the start of the semester. There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes students aren't on my roster and don't know that, for some reason, they aren't actually in the class. Calling roll on those first few days lets everyone know where we stand and it can help you learn names if you care.

Some of the things that go on with your blog really indicates to me that most of the commenters are really green and don't understand what professors who don't work at R1 schools do.

Here are some things we do for which we don't get paid more to do, but are part of the standard professorial duties: write assessment reports, go to major fairs, develop general education curriculum, and a whole bunch of other shit that makes being a professor more of a drag. But my point is this.

If you keep careful track of grades, you can add this bit with very little inconvenience; and oh, it's the law. Here is a link to the 1998 Amendments to the 1965 Higher Education Act. Scroll down to see title IV stuff on financial aid.

http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea98/index.html

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 10:30,

I would be willing to bet that your university has an attendance policy.

I just checked; it doesn't. Some departments do--I have friends who are required to take attendance and have it count for a certain portion of the course grade. Mine doesn't, and I'm not.

I would even bet that your university has a syllabus policy that requires you have an attendance policy on the syllabus.

You're right about that. But it doesn't say what it has to be. It says that students are expected to attend class, but it doesn't say that professors are required to keep track of attendance.

(Just to be clear, this is not to say that I think attendance is unimportant. I think it's important, and I do things to encourage attendance. I don't take roll, I give pop quizzes about the readings or what we talked about in class recently. If you aren't there for the quiz, you aren't going to do well. If you're there but didn't do the reading the quiz is about, you're not going to do well. If you're there for the quiz but you weren't there for the discussion that the quiz is about, you're not going to do well. My attendance got a lot better when I started doing this.)

It isn't a lot to ask you to pay attention to who is in your class at the start of the semester.

Doesn't that depend on how many people are in my classes? Because I have at least 200 students per semester. Often more.

Here are some things we do for which we don't get paid more to do, but are part of the standard professorial duties...

Those things are actually not part of my duties. That's just because I'm not on the tenure track, of course. And I'd gladly take them on, for two reasons: 1. That would mean that I was on the TT, and I would probably make a lot more money; 2. I would be much more involved with my department if I had these responsibilities.

1998 Amendments to the 1965 Higher Education Act

Title IV is big. Can you point to the relevant bits?

Anonymous said...

Besides the stealing-tax-dollars bit, which is a big deal, there's a broader question about the fair allocation of scarce financial aid dollars. It's clearly better to give dollars to students who are trying than to those who are not. Since it's extremely difficult to distinguish "genuine trying (but failing)" from "half-assed trying (but failing)," it's reasonable to use attendance as a proxy measure. Maybe that's not enough to justify the retroactive revocation of financial aid, as opposed to the denial of future financial aid. The "stealing" argument, though, does justify clawing back money that's already been disbursed.

One other reason universities might want to distinguish DNAs from Fs, along the lines of 11:44's comment: Many universities scrutinize the proportion of students that fail each instructor's courses. If, say, 50% of the students who actually take your class fail, that might be a problem. If half of those just never showed up, that's different.

Anonymous said...

I don't take roll, I give pop quizzes about the readings or what we talked about in class recently.

At my school, the DNA grade could be inputted with either last date attended or (if attendance information is not available) the last assignment completed. So, if you don't keep detailed attendance information, you could just go off of the quizzes that were turned in and graded. You may want to check to see if that is an option for you, because I agree it seems fairly ridiculous for you to be expected to keep roll in large classes.

Anonymous said...

How is this any different form giving an F to a student whose financial aid depends on carrying a certain GPA?

Should faculty ask students about their financial aid situation before assigning a grade that may hurt them?

Anonymous said...

How is this any different form giving an F to a student whose financial aid depends on carrying a certain GPA?

I might be wrong about this, but I'd assume that aid with a minimum GPA requirement is more generous than aid with no requirements (beyond mere attendance).

More related to the general thread, most of the schools at which I teach avoid the whole retroactive DNA issue by following-up after the first month of classes to see if an enrolled student has never attended. I guess that way they can nip the problem in the bud, as opposed to waiting until the end of the semester to revoke aid.

Anonymous said...

I received a DNA grade for missing faculty senate meetings...my wages were garnished back to the day I stopped attending...so I've been forced by financial circumstances to eat nothing but Top Ramen noodles and teach Philosophy in the quad for small donations.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:06,

I take it the difference is between losing one's future financial aid and having earlier financial aid revoked. The former might force you to drop out of school. The latter could force you out of school and put you in serious debt. So the consequences of a DNA are worse.

Your second question is an apt question, though, despite that difference.

Anonymous said...

I understand that financial aid fraud is a big problem. Then again, it isn't my job to take care of it. If the university wants it taken care of, then let them hire someone to do it. It ain't my job. Why the fuck should I do work I'm not paid to do? The university is a business, and I'm it's employee. My interests are not its interests.

Anonymous said...

6:59...

8:06 here again.

I'm working from the assumption that a bad grade will have negative repercussions. A student who fails a class needed to complete the degree may have to take that class again, and pay for it again. A student who fails a course may lose scholarship money. A student who earns a DNA grade may lose financial aid and have earlier aid revoked. All three cost the student money. The question is, how much money?

Ultimately, it matters not to me. And from what I've seen, it often matters not one bit to students...until they earn that bad grade that costs them more than they can afford. Then they howl like hell at whoever will listen, in an attempt to have that grade changed.

On the flip side, I've met many students who have been smart about their financial aid, knew what their end of the bargain was, and made damn sure to keep whatever GPA, attendance, or other qualifications were needed.

Bottom line: some student take a risk, and the it pays off. Other students take a risk and they lose. But I'm not going to fudge someone's grade because they can't afford a loss that they earned. (Like Zero, I'm working from the assumption that there are no mitigating factors.)

Anonymous said...

4:50 says,
"A student who fails a class needed to complete the degree may have to take that class again, and pay for it again. A student who fails a course may lose scholarship money."

MAY have to. Exactly. And maybe not. Many students select courses randomly, with no intention of completing them, solely in order to collect the living expenses portion of full time financial aid. So long as the student has need-based financial aid, the student can maintain a minimum GPA and a satisfactory completion rate by functioning effectively in 2/3 of enrolled courses; the student can simply blow off the other 1/3 of enrolled credits every semester and get rewarded with some pocket money for doing so. If your students are anything like mine, a lot of them are buying drugs and alcohol with the money.

Failing to report these students for their fraud has a genuine effect of draining financial aid from the system, reducing what's available to serious students from poor families.

Anonymous said...

My campus has this policy, but it has nothing at all to do with teaching students a lesson by taking away their financial aid.

As our Dean's office repeats regularly, the point is to protect the university against a federal investigation.

How is this any different form giving an F to a student whose financial aid depends on carrying a certain GPA?

It's very different. At least, what I see a lot is students who are planning not only to win Fs in some of their courses (the ones they don't plan to attend), but also to offset the effect of those Fs on their GPAs by securing good grades in their other courses.

Anonymous said...

(Seeking advice on a different topic): a paper of mine has been under review for seven months. The most recent status update on the online editorial system is now almost six months old (“Reviews Completed”). I’ve emailed the editor several times over the past four months to ask about the status of my submission but I never received a reply. Here are some questions: (a) how reliable are the online editorial systems? (b) is there any explanation/justification for the editor’s apparent policy of not responding to queries from authors? (c) at what point is it reasonable to withdraw a paper and to send it elsewhere? (d) do journal editors view a withdrawal as an “aggressive” act on behalf of authors? (e) suppose one decides to withdraw a submission, is one permitted to send the paper to another journal as soon as one emails the editor/office about one’s decision to withdraw one’s submission or is one expected to give some kind of “notice” of withdrawal? (f) what would you do if you were in my shoes? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I think Zero should get a DNA for doing a piss poor job of moderating this blog.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 5:06,

you ask:

(a) how reliable are the online editorial systems? (b) is there any explanation/justification for the editor’s apparent policy of not responding to queries from authors? (c) at what point is it reasonable to withdraw a paper and to send it elsewhere? (d) do journal editors view a withdrawal as an “aggressive” act on behalf of authors? (e) suppose one decides to withdraw a submission, is one permitted to send the paper to another journal as soon as one emails the editor/office about one’s decision to withdraw one’s submission or is one expected to give some kind of “notice” of withdrawal? (f) what would you do if you were in my shoes?

(a) Somewhat reliable. If there was a decision in the past few weeks, you'd have heard about it by now.

(b) I don't know.

(c) This point.

(d) I don't know. But who cares? They've had the reviews for 7 months, and they don't respond to your emails.

(e) Yes. You withdraw it by informing them that you've withdrawn it.

(d) I would initially threaten to withdraw it; I wouldn't skip right to withdrawing it. I would send the editor a politely-worded email that mentioned the pertinent details of the case and said that unless I had received some concrete news by [deadline], I would be withdrawing the paper effective at that deadline.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 9:39,

You have clearly failed to grasp the concept of a DNA grade.