Saturday, January 10, 2009

Placement and Data

We finally got some data from the folks in Outer Administan with information about how students have done in math classes. You would think that this would be easier than it is, but, no. Our only access to the central data about students math grades is via that wacky system on the mainframe, and we can not view the data or get it in an electronic file. We can only ask the wacky mainframe to print it on paper. Back in September we asked for some data. It just arrived.

My supervisor did a bit of preliminary number-crunching. Turns out that when students take the math classes that they're supposed to take, they tend to pass. When they take math classes that are too hard for them, they tend not to pass.

And, so, just about every spare moment of my time for the past week or so (and the next week or so) has been spent trying to make sure that students are in the right classes. This is hard because we don't have any electronic access to anything and our registration system is blissfully unaware of prerequisites.

The biggest problem is students with transfer credit. Seems that we have a lot of students who have taken classes at other universities but who have never sent transcripts here, so the classes that they took elsewhere are not showing up on their records. Now they're annoyed that I'm asking them to bring some sort documentation showing that they actually took (and passed) those classes.

And, of course, some version of the 80/20 rule is in effect here. Most students get the email from me telling them that they need to bring to class a grade report or other information showing that they passed College Algebra, and they do just that. The teacher checks the students off on the list and then updates me on the status of the list. It's the non-compliance that's bringing me down.

One non-compliant student decided to take calculus because after failing college algebra three times the system wouldn't let the student sign up for another attempt at the algebra class. Eventually the student got in touch with me, and I wrote a letter to the registrar's office granting the student permission to take algebra one more time. Turns out that the only algebra class that's open is at 8am. Student called me back asking for me to tell the registrar's office that this student should be allowed to skip over everyone on the waitlist for the sections at better times. Um, no.

Related aside: I have heard reports of a student in engineering who failed calc 1, moved on to calc 2 and failed it, and is now taking differential equations. He'll be surprised when he learns that not only must you take the classes required by your major, but you also have to pass them.

And now I shall get back to work. For this whole placement project, I'll be doing the data equivalent of picking the last bits of meat off the turkey carcass -- I'm hunting through my hard drive for final grade spreadsheets that I have for entirely different reasons and trying to match passing students from those classes with names on the current class list. Once again I am convinced that the computer science class that I'm taking is way over my head, so I'm planning on getting ahead on the work for that. And then there's that pesky chapter that I'm supposed to be writing. With all this work to do, I'm much less bothered that the tv is broken yet again.