Editorial: Grades should be based on quality of work, not attendance

By Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Daily, Iowa State U. via UWIRE

It would be hard to state our favorite movie of the 1980s. A leading contender on any list, however, surely is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” That classic of American comedy lays out the adventures of the eponymous hero, Ferris, and two of his friends as they skip one of their last days of high school. Now, as college students, we can all fondly look back on such days of our own.

The movie even engages in a kind of juxtaposition, setting the hand-holding of high school, with an activist principal who will break into our homes to make sure we’re actually on our death beds and not faking, alongside the promises of an adult life filled with liberation and responsibility together. One thing we looked forward to leaving in high school, as surely as Ferris and his pals did, was the low resonation of “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…?” as our teachers take attendance.

And yet, instances of attendance counting for 5 or 10 percent of a class grade are not unheard of. We would have thought that since the vast, overwhelming majority of college students are adults, such parent-style monitoring of our activities would pass into the sunset of adolescence. If college should be a time of discovery before we head out into the “real world,” we should also have to discover responsibility in addition to new cultures, world views, ideas, languages, and all the other horizon-broadening aspects of university life that get sold to high school juniors and seniors in the postcards and prospectuses sent out by admissions and recruitment offices.

When attendance-based grading occurs, the distinction between high school and college — a distinction that ought to be as visible as it is large —vanishes. Since there ought to be a clear difference between high school and college, that is unfortunate. Both institutions have the goal of preparing their students for adulthood, with one difference that has far-reaching implications.

College students are at least 18 years old, or will be for most of the time it takes to earn their degrees. In the eyes of the law, they are adults. Without their parents’ permission (although of course, we cannot say anything about their parents’ approval) they can vote, get married, rent apartments, buy cars, have abortions, file for bankruptcy, enlist in the armed forces and do pretty much anything. At the very least, they can take out thousands of dollars in loans — for which they are responsible — to pay tuition, since they are consumers of the product that America’s universities sell.

Occasionally, an attendance grade gets rolled in with participation, or in-class quizzes, or a select number of test questions that the professor will draw from material that only appeared in lecture. Given that grading must account for attendance somehow, those options — as opposed to grading based outright on whether your derriere is in your seat — are preferable.

Indeed, attendance should affect students’ grades. But it should only do so indirectly. If students are to be penalized or rewarded for showing up at class, that penalty or reward should be apparent in the quality of work the student turns in.

Perhaps our final thought should take the shape of a question: Is an attendance component of a grade an opportunity for students to gain points through focused, deliberate work, or is it an opportunity to lose them through carelessness that in the end has no bearing on the quality of the essays, quizzes and tests we turn in?

Read more here: http://www.iowastatedaily.com/opinion/article_864dc542-5da6-11e2-a506-001a4bcf887a.html
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