Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stats at a small school

I continue to grade my Pet course's work. They are doing terribly this year. The stuff they aren't getting is surprising. Poor class performance could be due to several factors.

1. Random variation. Most of my class sizes are 20 or less, which makes statistics for them difficult. This one is 60, though.

2. Entering Freshman class. SRU had a banner year of enrollment this year. One has to wonder whether we have somehow sacrificed quality for quantity. I'm not on the selection committee, so I can make no statements about that. Since Pet course is comprised mostly of Freshmen, it could be a factor.

3. Change in physical format. Since our enrollment has gone up, this course has had to move from a very cozy regular classroom to a big lecture hall. This changes the degree of engagement for the students.

4. Maturation of the Professor. The more I teach, the more I learn, too. That means the more I forget what it was like to learn it for the first time. While I may be getting slightly more demanding over the years, I don't think this is a major factor. The final I used this year is nearly word-for word as last year. Besides, I think what they aren't getting is some pretty simple stuff. When I imagine someone who goes out of my class and into their profession and not knowing that stuff, I shudder.

5. My absences. God, I hope not.

6. Wrong impression. I'm not done grading, and haven't run stats on all of it. So I could be wrong that they are doing worse this year than previous years.

I'm really hoping that its ether 1 or 6. I won't be able to tell this until next year, assuming the other factors don't vary also. I would hate to be a social scientist that does longitudinal studies. Just waiting until next Fall is too long for my impatient, curious mind!!


  1. I wouldn't take it personally. I think it's really important to grade based on a consistent standard of how well they've actually conquered the material instead of grading with a curve. If students don't do well this year, next year's students will get the message that they need to work hard in that class to learn the material and do well. I think information from peers plays a large role in how students prepare for a course.

  2. never take it personally. If it is a freshman class, and you were absent in the end, duh... they should have studied earlier and still be able to make it. Since it is a fairly large class, as you said, it will be more people who are likely to fail (at least according to my experience) whereas in a small class the teacher makes all the difference.

    And as Erin says, if they don't do well this year - the students next year will realise they have to study harder.

    Although, you might get some schtick from the department about "not having all people apssing" but that is, as you know, mainly BS on their part in order for their statistics. They'd rather have "passing students that know little to none" than "failing students that know little to none" [my own experience about departments bearucracy]