How refreshing

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: How refreshing
By Celebrian23 (Celebrian23) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 10:41 am: Edit

This is an article about reed college views on the college ranking by us news. I found it so refreshing and just thought i would post the link for others to read.

By Mini (Mini) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 11:25 am: Edit

It IS refreshing....and somewhat disingenuous. Reed is quick to point out their number of future Ph.ds., etc., without acknowledging the self-selection that went into the admissions to Reed which highly predetermines the outcome. They then emphasize the value of some other school's Ph.D., rather than the Reed degree itself.

It's rather like Reed's policy on grades. Instead of taking the high road and grading pass-fail, they decide to keep grades "secret" from the student (unless they ask.) The result is increased competitiveness among students. No amount of work is enough, as their is no standard to determine it. (It's rather like hoow many acts of repentence does one need before one knows one is saved.) It would seem to have precisely the opposite effect of what was intended.

I think it would be great if all schools opted out of the numbers ranking game. But I think Reed's reasoning is rather self-serving - which is fine! after all, they are "competiting" in the marketplace whether they like it or not, and opting out of USNWR is just a piece of the marketing strategy.

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 11:45 am: Edit

I respectfully disagree about the increased competitiveness. While students will moan about how many hours they have been up straight studying ( actually they spend more time moaning), when they don't know their grades they are working hard because they expect it and to get the most out of the class, not using a letter to decide if they have done enough.
advisors do meet with students when their GPA drops too low ( keep in mind average is 2.9), but this can be too late to salvage an individual class.
My daughter didn't have a realistic idea of how she was doing without her grades. She thought she was doing passing work, she met with the prof regularly, but in reality she was skimming along the failing line and when she blew the final exam, she failed the class. I am not sure if knowing her grades could have helped in that instance, as it wasn't just a very difficult course load on top of family crisis, but it's possible she would have been able to see the writing on the wall and taken a leave before she failed the class.
I agree that refusing to participate does attract them to the kind of students they serve. Students who may not have excelled in high school but who are obviously very bright, students who want the rigor of a Reed education where every student writes a senior thesis and passes a junior qualifying exam not just the honors students, kids who wear "quirky" as a badge of honor.
If everyone wanted to go here ( or even had heard of it) it would lose its status to them.

By Mini (Mini) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 12:09 pm: Edit

I think you are probably right - and that it cuts both ways. When we visited, we met several students who basically told us that no amount of work was enough. (Lots of funny stories). Reed basically enshrines that in their "self-flagellation" ceremony (I do mean this literally) for students handing in their senior theses. At any rate, these students told us the competition was brutal.

BUT, and I think your point is very well-taken, unless theer are really, really good feedback mechanisms, the secret grades may either give some students a false sense of security, or alternatively, may be either doing the minimum to get by or, through no fault of their own, skirt on the very edge of failuure/success.

By Mackinaw (Mackinaw) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 01:34 pm: Edit

Mini, you wrote the following: "Instead of taking the high road and grading pass-fail, they decide to keep grades "secret" from the student (unless they ask.) The result is increased competitiveness among students. No amount of work is enough, as their is no standard to determine it. (It's rather like hoow many acts of repentence does one need before one knows one is saved.) It would seem to have precisely the opposite effect of what was intended."

As a (former) Reedie, I can say that your interpretation is far from the mark. There is virtually no grade competitiveness at Reed. There is very little student-to-student competitiveness. Instead the students focus on the subject matter, questions, understanding. Whereas at a typical school, the conversation between two students after receiving their papers back from the professor would be "what did you get on your paper," at Reed the typical conversation might be "what did professor X say about your argument about Y?" In other words, the standard discourse about the learning experience changes noticeably because the communcation is not limited to a letter or number grade.

I think your comments reflect a common misconception. Students are not in the dark about their performance at Reed. They can get their grades at any time if they wish (and some do ask for them -- I never saw mine nor sought to see mine til I received a copy of my transcript after graduation). Students meet with their academic advisors (professors) at the end of the semester or year to review their performance. Students whose performance (i.e., grade point average) is marginal or unsatisfactory receive notice, both verbally and in writing, as well as advice about how to remedy the situation. Students who are doing exceptionally well may receive a "President's letter" (akin to a dean's letter) at the end of each year.

More important than this, however, is that your remarks overlook that omitting the letter grade from graded material greatly increases the communication between faculty and student about the student's work and learning. In freshman humanities (Hum 110) profs write evaluative comments on every paper; they can't just limit their evaluation to a letter or number. And students meet with their profs in "paper conferences" after every paper -- 15-30 minutes to discuss the work. Paper conferences are optional after that in most courses, but the practice of having fuller communication about performance between student and prof continues. Turning to a pass-fail grading system would be totally counter-productive to such communication. I might add that I never had a "multiple choice" (so-called "objective" test) in my 4 years at Reed. Except, of course, for tests that involved translation (e.g., language) or problem solving (e.g., math, physics) we were tested by use of essays, and even in these types of courses, we wrote and wrote.

Of course there are, as is implied above, some subjects in which there may be definite "right" and "wrong" answers (math, physical sciences, foreign language) on tests. Students have no difficulty knowing which questions they answered correctly. And when they write essays or research reports in those courses, the professors again provide ample commentary.

That Reed students work hard has nothing to do with the grading system. It has to do with the overall culture that focuses on the academic side of college life as well as with the high expectations that faculty have for student learning.

By Mini (Mini) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 02:11 pm: Edit

"That Reed students work hard has nothing to do with the grading system. It has to do with the overall culture that focuses on the academic side of college life as well as with the high expectations that faculty have for student learning."

I wasn't there - so all I know is from what the admissions people told us, and what the students told us. And they both told us it was all of a piece. As Emeraldkity wrote, for some students, the lack of grades did not result in better feedback. For others, we were told explicitly, it resulted in greater competition among students, in longer papers, extra reading taken on, etc. Nothing necessarily wrong in that -- it results in more academics being accomplished, doesn't it?

If that's the goal, competition is a good method. It works in sports training, especially when there is no objective standard to evaluate against ((I've got a gymnast, so I know all about that); why shouldn't it work in the acadamic "sport"? Academics ARE the sport at Reed (the students even make jokes about it, and the self-flagellation ceremony is wonderful mockery of it!) I would have assumed you'd think that to be a good thing, not a bad one.. Reed clearly thinks it is a matter of competition - that's why they post the graduate Ph.D. rankings, and they think it is a good way to attract students (and it IS! for those students who want to be competitive for graduate school.)

P.S. Has anyone ever read Herman Hesse's "Magister Ludi" (The Glass-Bead Game)? When I think of it, it reminds me of Reed, and in a good way! Reed is clearly not for everyone (neither is UChicago, where I spent some time), but for the right student, it would be a wonderful place!

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 02:53 pm: Edit

well I think for my daughter her problem in her organic chem class was exaerbated by not wanting to acknowledge that she was struggling.
She already had recieved an academic warning the previous year, and had a plan to remedy that.
I was leaving everything up to her and the school, which in hindsight a naive move. I don't beleive I ever even saw her academic plan cause she never knew where it was.
She now acknowledges that she could have asked for ( and recieved) even more help, but when it's easier to be in denial, and when your learning disabilty makes it seem that you understand it one minute but as soon as you gets back to her dorm it is gone, then it is even harder to recognize the difference between drowning and struggling.
I really like the no grades I think it is a good compromise between schools where the grade is the thing to the point where students and parents are complaining if the GPA goes down, and Evergreen which doesn't even calculate grades, just gives written evals, ( which no matter what they say, I have heard can make it difficult if a transfer is needed)
However an"A" in one school is of course very different from an "A" somewhere else. I still don't really understand if my daughter is such a good student, and the prof thinks so highly of her and admits she worked hard, how she could have flunked the class.
I do wish I had been monitoring the situation a little better, I didn't even know that the ADD coach that she had , had since freshman year had moved on two months before end of term and hadn't been replaced. I know Reed expects students to be adult and advocate for themselves, but logical consequences can be hard to live with when it isnt for lack of effort.
I also feel that while Reed gives many students a shot at attending a very rigourous top college who don't have comparable scores and stats to their peers in other more competitive colleges, they also undergo a "weeding" out process, where the graduation rate, while higher than in past years, still is lower than peer colleges.
I am perhaps more frustrated because of our families experience, but I see Reed really wanting to expand diversity by their mentor program for minorities and first generation college. However that program ( unlike programs in other schools), is only for one year, I think it would have made a difference to us, if it had been continued until graduation or until student opts out.

By Spoonyj (Spoonyj) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 06:31 pm: Edit

I, too, am a Reed graduate, and I couldn't agree more with Mackinaw. When I checked my grades at the end of my junior year, only one came as a surprise, and it was a mild one. This was a testament to the extensive feedback provided by my professors, who were, almost to a person, dedicated teachers. Several of my profs provided detailed typed comments for each of the essays I wrote in their classes; some even required paper conferences for every essay they handed back. This kind of care and attention was invaluable to me. It also speaks, although indirectly, to another issue in this thread: Reed's competitiveness. I've said it before on these boards, and I'll say it again: Reed is not competitive in the traditional sense; however, it is intellectually intense, the kind of college where students work hard not to get ahead of their peers or position themselves for grad school, but because they are devoted to intellectual inquiry. In other words, they're curious, eager to test and pursue ideas. I never felt closer to my classmates than I did while writing my senior thesis. It was a tremendous experience, all of us seniors in the same boat, pursuing our chosen topics, producing papers longer than we ever thought possible. At the end of it all, with the faculty and underclassmen cheering us on, the thesis parade was a time of celebration, not self-flagellation. Reed students do work hard--sometimes too hard--but to call Reed competitive is to use a blunt term that fails to capture the culture of the institution.

Finally, while I have no doubt that Reed uses its dispute with US News as a marketing tool, it pays to know some history. This dispute goes back nearly twenty years, long before college admissions became the marketing machine it is today. In fact, the dispute was a very touchy subject in the early days, since it came as Reed was just emerging from a long period of financial instability. Many thought it was imprudent to take on the rankings just as the insitution was getting back on its feet. Sure, Reed makes what hay it can over its position on rankings, but this doesn't mean that the position isn't long-standing, genuinely rooted in the goals and mission of the college.

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