It isn't an adversarial relationship

Last Thursday I gave back the first set of tests in my classes.  (Cost Management--a managerial accounting course).  SInce most of us here tend to give three tests in the semester, a lot of other tests are taking place this week or last.

Testing is not fun for students or professors, but it's important.  We can't read minds.  Employers and accrediting agencies want to know that students have learned something.  For accountants, it's even more important because we need to prepare for a profession that requires we pass difficult certification exams to progress in our careers.

It always strikes me how often students and professors see testing in particular, and education more generally, as adversarial.   Students sometimes don't see the value in learning, and are just interested in getting by.  Professors sometimes forget how hard it is to learn something new.  The two can have radically different priorities, and that leads them to act like adversaries. 

This adversarial thought process really gets in the way. Right now I am dealing with several students who really  need to drop a class.  For different reasons, they haven't done so. 

Student one is in my own class.  He added the class late, and has been behind from day one.  He continued to miss classes and has not been by my office for help.  He did not come to class on the day of the first test.  When I handed back the tests he said he was not aware there was a test and asked for a make-up.  Since the syllabus clearly indicates each day's class activities including tests, and we had spent a day in class reviewing, I refused the make-up.  I suggested that he drop the course and take it next semester.   He'd have more time for other courses where he is also struggling, but there is still a chance to pass.  He says this would be a "big inconvenience" and interfere with his ability to play sports.  I'm trying to protect his education and grade point average.  He wants to play ball.   (And, to be fair, I think there is more going on but don't know what.  And kept in the dark I can't consider it.)

Student two is in financial accounting with another professor.  I'm talking with him in my role as department head.  The student did poorly on his first test, and has too much on his plate.  Financial accounting is a prerequisite for other courses, so if he does poorly in that course it starts a domino effect.   He agreed that dropping the class would be in his best interest and I helped him to plan his schedule for the next year to make up the credits.  But he hasn't done it because his mother doesn't want him to give up.  She doesn't trust  her son to be telling the truth and is afraid he won't graduate on time.  He and I want to set him up to do well in the future.  His frustration is palpable.  But he also needs to please Mom.  I'm waiting while the student decides whether to give me permission to speak with his mother.

Student three is in my class.  This student has a learning disability which permits him extra time for examinations.  The director of the disability center also suggested that he record classes and take notes on a computer, which he has not done.  We arranged for student three to arrive early the day of the test.  But he did not come early.  As I had a meeting starting five minutes after the end of class, he did not get extra time for the test.  His test grade was, as you would expect, very poor.  I contacted the director and we made a plan for how I would talk with student three.  He did not come to class the day the test was returned.  I'm still waiting for him to contact me almost a week later.  I don't have much understandng of his motivations, but I am sure that avoidance does not help him.

How do I tie these examples together?  With the suggestion that as a student or parent, you accept that unless there is evidence to the opposite, we are trying to provide a good education and to help you.  You and we are on the same side.  We write difficult tests and hold the line on expectations so that your education has value to you and that value is recognized by the outside world.  This serves you far better--in the long term--than pushing you through courses.  And a whole lot better than keeping you on the team at a Division Three school while your education suffers.

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Barbara McElroy is Associate Professor of Accounting and Head of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA.  Before beginning a career in academe, Barbara worked in both public and private accounting settings, and owned several businesses.  She is particularly interested in the interaction of accounting and public policy.  Barbara will discuss current events with the interest of students, faculty, and practicing professionals in mind.

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