U considers mandating midterm reports

Amy Hackbarth

Next fall, University students who worry during the semester about their grade point averages won’t have to wait until finals to know their course grades.

The University might implement a midterm evaluation system that would give students their approximate grades during the sixth week of the semester, said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education.

“I am hopeful we will have something up and running next fall,” Swan said.

The Graduation and Retention Subcommittee is working to increase graduation rates and recommended the system, which would also include performance evaluations of professors.

The Web-based system will allow professors to e-mail their midterm reports to students and advisers.

Currently freshman athletes and students enrolled in General College classes are the only ones receiving midterm evaluations informing them of their grades at different times during the semester.

Academic Counseling and Student Services for Intercollegiate Athletics asks professors of freshman athletes to complete midterm grade reports. The reports include an evaluation of the student’s performance and an approximate grade for the course.

The reports can inform students of their progress in the class or act as a warning system for struggling students.

“What students encounter in college is different than what they saw in high school,” said Carol Gruber, director of Academic Counseling and Student Services for Intercollegiate Athletics. “Some professors may not provide grade information for students.”

Anita Menden, a junior on the women’s cross country team, said midterm reports helped her catch a grading mistake in one of her freshman courses.

“One of my grades was a lot lower than what I thought it should be,” she said. “When I talked to my professor, we found out some of my scores were entered wrong.”

Student-athlete counseling services also use the reports to correct struggling student athletes’ behavior, said Ethan Allen, an academic counselor for intercollegiate athletics.

“If there are flags with the course, we’ll contact the student,” Allen said. “We try to identify their study habits, or if attendance is a problem we try to get them to go to class.”

But only 30 percent of professors who taught student-athletes in 2000 completed the midterm reports.

Due to the low response rate, the office moved the reports from paper to a Web-based format this fall. Because this semester’s reports are just now being distributed, Gruber said, it is too soon to determine whether the format change will increase the response rate.

“We really think it’s the wave of the future,” Gruber said. “We’re hoping in time it will pay off with a higher response from professors.”

General College faculty also distribute midterm evaluations to their students via e-mail. In their
program, all students taking a General College course receive two evaluation reports from their professors – one during the sixth week of class and another in the 10th week.

Like the student-athlete midterm reports, General College evaluation reports include estimated grades and individual recommendations from students’ professors.

“Feedback is fundamental to learning,” said Cathrine Wambach, a General College professor. “Anything you can do to increase feedback is better.”

In a February survey evaluating the fall 2000 midterm review process, 88 percent of General College students who received written comments on their forms felt they were helpful. General College asked 2,682 students to participate in the survey, and 601 students responded.

Laura Koch, assistant vice provost for first-year programs, said she remembers filling out evaluation reports when she was a General College professor. She said she used the time to talk and work with the students individually so they understood what improvements needed to be made.

“A lot of students don’t know what to expect with they come to the University,” Koch said. “The reports are a good time for people to find out.”