Drop-fail-withdraw rates create controversy among faculty

Student drop, fail and withdrawal rates are beginning to affect the appraisal and development process of instructors at Oklahoma State University.


The deans of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology and the College of Arts Sciences are strongly in favor of using DFW rates to evaluate insructors.

Some faculty in the College of Education and College Human Sciences also favor the system, said Faculty Council Chair Shelia Kennison.

“The pressure is likely related to the lower retention rates in these areas,” Kennison said.

“In the College of Arts Sciences, that’s where there’s been a lot of pressure because that’s where the general education courses are largely taught in the first couple years of a student’s career,” Kennison said.

Arts Sciences Dean Bret Danilowicz said in a letter to the faculty of the college that DFW rates should not be the only basis for the appraisal and development process, but that DFW rates can help faculty members with higher rates explore what they are doing differently from other faculty members with lower rates.

“While few in number, we even have some individuals consistently over 70 percent. Such individuals are outliers, and sharing and discussing DFWs is the first step in exploring what is causing the noticeable different in grades,” Danilowicz said in his letter.

Although DFW rates can help determine the difference in grades between instructors, Dr. Kennison said she does not feel they should be the sole contributor to the appraisal and development process.

“DFW rates represent very complex information about a course and should not be used to indicate an instructors overall ability to teach,” Kennison said.

Instructors have no control over whether a student has been allowed in a class who may not be prepared for that level of class.

One concern the Faculty Council had about using DFW rates was that instructors might feel pressured to make their courses easier to decrease the DFW rates.

According to the results of the shared governance survey announced in the Spring General Faculty Meeting, 42 percent of the 405 faculty members who voted said they feel pressure to reduce the rigor of their courses.

Other factors might be involved in classes with high DFW rates, such as the time and day of classes, Danilowicz said in his letter.

Thursday evening classes or 8 a.m. classes may have a higher DFW rates than classes at other times. Off-cycle courses might also have the same problem when compared to on-cycle courses.

The size of classes and whether they are online or face-to-face might also affect DFW rates. This means the context of the course is just as important when interpreting grade distributions.

Multiple measures should be considered in the appraisal and development process, not just the DFW rates. Grade distributions, student evaluations of instruction, peer evaluations and common exams should all be taken into account equally. DFW rates would not be weighted more than any other method of evaluation, Danilowicz said in his letter.

Kennison said the block tuition plan is also of concern to the faculty because there is a chance DFW rates will increase.

 “One concern that we have about the bloc tuition plan is that the DFW rates will go up simply because people are shopping for classes and drop them later,” Kennison said.

The University of Oklahoma has a policy that discourages students from dropping or withdrawing from classes.

OU’s policy limits the number of W’s (withdrawals) a student can have to 5 in their career, making students more careful when choosing classes.

Although it has been discussed, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete plan to create a similar policy at OSU.

 

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