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Unwarranted weeding October 16, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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Sadly, this isn’t a post on gardening whatever you may think of the title.

It’s advising week, meaning students must check in with their advisors and get permission for their courses next semester.  I usually have a couple students who come to me for help either because their advisor isn’t familiar with all the requirements or because they aren’t terribly helpful.

This week, however, I had another interesting reason for a student needing extra help: their advisor was basically trying to talk them into switching majors.  I thought this interesting because this student hasn’t even completed their first semester yet, and from my observation, they are a pretty good student.  So why would their advisor tell them to start thinking about alternative career paths?

Once I started talking to this student, they explained that they were in precalc instead of calc, so the argument was that they were going to be behind because they wouldn’t be able to start taking some of their major classes by the second semester of their sophomore year.  This seemed like a weak argument, so I began discussing things with the student further.  Unfortunately, that just made me more upset.

The student was in precalc because, on the math placement exam, they were one point short of being placed into calculus.  The test has a hard cut-off.  This is a different scenario in my mind than a student who placed into precalc versus trig (the next class down) by one point.  Second, this student knows a bit about engineering because both parents are also engineers.

Probably what upset me the most was that this student is not your typical 18-year-old white male that represents about 90% of the students I have.  I don’t know that this played into the discussion (as in, I honestly think that the only consideration prompting this discussion was the student’s math placement), but I would think that there would actually be more of an effort to retain such a student.

My personal feeling is that student placement is, at least in part, due to circumstances of their schooling.  “Weeding” students out based on that parameter is not a smart idea as there are a lot of bright kids who come from rural schools and don’t have either advanced classes or highly competent teachers.  If a student gets to college and is really struggling in their courses after a semester or two, that’s a different story, and then I think it might be healthy to talk with the student about switching majors.  Or maybe they will decide to change majors of their own accord.  Either way, I think they need the opportunity to prove that they’re capable before you try to push them out.  You may lose a lot of students who don’t belong in the program, but you’re also going to push out some people who are very bright and capable.

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