To GradesFirst or not to GradesFirst…that is the question

Where do you stand on early alerts such as GradesFirst?  Do you buy into it or do you hold one of the following (albeit not mutually exclusion nor exhaustive positions)?

1. Faculty know their students best.  Classes are structured to provide students with mechanisms for support.  Syllabi, classroom discourse and office hours allow faculty to keep their finger on the pulse of their students.

2. This is college.  Students need to take responsibility.  If they are not succeeding, they need to seek help (assuming they know where they stand).

3.  It is our role as faculty to reach out to students in need, since many may not know that such support is available.

This post comes in response to the e-mail sent by Kojo this morning.  If you missed it, here’s the info about this GradesFirst campaign. Note that the language in the student e-mails has changed.   Also note that the term “progress report” is being thrown around.  This is the term used within GradesFirst, but doesn’t it feel like high school?  Perhaps it’s just my connotation of that word, to echo the previous post.

Please take some time before February 13th to click the link in this email and submit Progress Reports for students in your classes. This process is referred to as an early alert and is part of our 16 week case management advising strategy. We are using the student support system – GradesFirst – to further connect students, faculty, advisors, and tutors to facilitate student success.

I ask you to identify students who are in need of support to succeed in your class.

After you submit a progress report indicating that a student is “at risk”, two things will occur:

1. The student will receive an email, with the subject line: We are concerned about your progress in class. The email advises students to seek support.

2. The assigned college advisor will receive a notification that students in their caseload have been sent progress reports. The advising center will then follow up with those students via phone, email, or text within 48 hours.

You can log into GradesFirst at any point in the semester, after the campaign ends, to initiate your own individual progress reports. The campaign mode is designed to make it easy for faculty across the District to submit reports early in the term.

If you have any questions, please reach out to the Associate Dean of Student Services at your college for assistance.


Kojo Quartey

Feel free to comment anonymously.  In typing this post, I have not committed to one side or another (or another).  But I am curious about how others feel?  This isn’t the first conversation about GradesFirst. See here and here.

4 thoughts on “To GradesFirst or not to GradesFirst…that is the question

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. My bad list is longer than my good list, but in all fairness, the good points are individually more powerful than my bad points.

    The good:

    1. You state that “This is college. Students need to take responsibility. If they are not succeeding, they need to seek help (assuming they know where they stand).” This is true. However, I believe anyone who has taught at CCC for a few semesters has come to recognize that some of our students have little conception of what this means. Primarily among first-generation students, we see the contrast between those students who have been raised to understand the importance personal responsibility and self-sufficiency in school, and those who have missed the education on how to get educated. This is not an inherent piece of knowledge. It is therefore frequently our role to educate people who enroll in our classes on how to be students who are enrolled in our classes: students not merely in name, but in spirit as well.

    2. By week 4, many of us have already seen students who claim they want to pass, but have already missed three or four days, missed assignments, aren’t preparing for class, and in many ways are not engaging in “best practices” for students. Maybe we can change their behavior, and maybe we can’t, but by at least making them aware that they are not performing to standard, they have more information about themselves to help them decide what choices they wish to make. This might result in them withdrawing from the class, but in some cases, that may actually be a good thing. Gradesfirst, or some other early-alert system, assists us in that by making it more convenient to get the word out. In my high-participation games class, I already have 10 withdrawals from 35. This is high, but the 25 who are left know what they’ve gotten themselves into, and are working hard. The high-participation means that students recognize early on what the class will demand of them, and some realize now, rather than in May, that they won’t do the work. The vast majority will do superbly. On the other hand, a class of 38 I have has 0 drops, though there will most certainly be a high number of C’s. With late withdrawals, F’s, and D’s, the actual rate of success is unlikely to be higher than my class with 10 drops, and students who can’t devote themselves sufficiently will not admit this to themselves until much more time has been sacrificed, and much more anxiety–for both student and myself–has been piled on.

    This self-recognition that GradesFirst supports may allow the student to make better, more informed decisions about their relationship to school.

    The bad:

    1. An admittedly anecdotal episode last semester that has made me irrationally sore: I had a student, ,who I will call Helen, who had totally failed to engage in the material for one of my courses. This was in a high-participation class, and her lack of preparation was totally clear day in and day out. I reached out to her, and encouraged her to visit my office hours. She said she would, but never did. She would express her frustrated bewilderment in class and after class, when there was no time to help her, and again I would encourage her to visit office hours, and direct her on her reading. Then, about 2/3’s through the semester, I receive a notice from GradesFirst, with an e-mail from Helen. Rather than e-mailing me, she sent the message through GradesFirst, stating that she was bewilidered and that I was not giving her the assistance she needed. I responded, saying that she needs to visit office hours. She never visited office hours. So now, the only thing on record is a student who claims she’s bewilidered and that I didn’t do my job.

    2. The way Kojo tailors his language, both here and in last semester’s message, it gives one the impression that this is mandatory. But at the chairs’ meeting last fall, it was made clear that this is not mandatory, and will not be enforced. This puts any non-tenured faculty into a position of feeling coerced into doing it, even if they have reservations.

    3. It puts student advising into the hands of a blind third-party. Our advisers are great, but they don’t know the inner workings of my class. When advisers receive an early warning, do they interact with the instructor at all? I have not seen this. And even if they did, why shouldn’t the instructor simply deliver this advice directly? Do the advisers deliver advice to the student that should be coming from the instructor? It seems as though that’s the best one could do in such a position, but that is inferior to a conversation with the instructor.

    4. In addition to 3, the third-party means that a record of our failings is being established and purview to anonymous powerful administrators. This is all done without context for the reader of these records, as in my bad point 1. So, while I doubt anyone will actively use the information to perform a witch hunt, if the administration already has their eye on some instructor, they may look to this record to reinforce any beliefs already held.

    5. We might be able to speak to those students who attend class, but what about the one who is constantly missing class, or coming in late and leaving early? GradesFirst seems like a solution, but many of these same students are also not checking their student e-mail regularly, so what good does Gradesfirst do them?

    6. This is just another small hoop we need to jump through in addition to an ever-increasing mountain of small hoops. This mountain is distracting us from our primary job.

    7. This all feels like it was done not for the best interest of our students and teachers, but rather to establish a new business contract, improve numbers, and tack on something to an administrator’s resume. I have absolutely no evidence for this.

  2. Kamran,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Here’s my take.

    “Bad” point one; if you had marked Helen as at-risk after she failed to come to office hours you could have included a message to that point. This would have created a written record of your actions to try to assist the student that would have countered her comments of not receiving help. It would have also placed more emphasis on your request for the student and it would have generated a student contact from an adviser. The adviser could have delved into why Helen wasn’t coming to see you encouraged her to go to office hours.

    “Bad” point two; the use of GradesFirst isn’t mandatory but it has the potential to help your students. I’m certain that you make every effort to help your students to be successful so why not enlist additional support? That’s what GradesFirst is for.

    “Bad” point three; this isn’t a GradesFirst issue, this is an advising issue and it’s a great point. We need to make sure that there is communication between the adviser and instructor. What is the process that the advisers are following?

    “Bad” point four; you have the power to provide the context through comments when you mark a student as at-risk.

    “Bad” point five; contacting students is always difficult. Emails and texts out of GradesFirst and phone calls from advisers are all in addition to any attempt you make. The more alternative approaches we attempt, the greater our likelihood of success.

    “Bad” points six and seven; now you’re just being whinny!

    • To mathissexy and Kamran:
      Great points. Both the good ones and the bad ones. It gives me food for thought. I’d like to add the following tangent to your post and reply (shootin’ from the hip):

      GradesFirst come across as a money-making smoke-screen/scheme to “assist” students.
      From their website, here’s what GradesFirst has to say about its features –
      “At GradesFirst, our mission is simple: GradesFirst will provide the absolute best Student Support System available to enhance the workflow and communication efficiencies of support units at your college or university. This will also result in students having easy access to the support services offered by the school.”

      Not a word about the educational quality or academic experience of the student.

      From our CCC website, here’s what we have to say about GradesFirst –
      “GradesFirst, a web-based student support tool aimed at improving student success, combines academic early alerts with advising and tutor management capability. Access GradesFirst anywhere using your CCC username and password – even from your phone!”

      I’d like to hear it from GradesFirst and CCC, in exactly one simple sentence, what this “tool” is meant to accomplish in terms of education and/or academics.

      GF and CCC remind me of two candidates at a public debate where instead of giving direct, honest, truthful answers, we get ambivalent rhetoric.

      Who stands to benefit from GF? I’d like to say the students, but corporate greed is the actual winner.
      We’ve had, and have, a plethora of people and tools to assist students? We lack communication is all. We lack the time to coordinate. We need more advisors. (I guess paying people and giving them benefits costs more than buying GF, right?) Yeah I know, software is cheaper than people, but aren’t people in a community there to serve people of a community? Machines can’t provide pathos when informing students they are ‘at risk’, can they?

      What is GF doing that is so radically different to make a difference? What is their track record? How many students have they “saved”? Do they even monitor this data? Nothin’ but feel good testimonials on their webpage. Feel good = feels good in the wallet of the corporation.

      Sorry, Kamran.
      I agree with your good points. There are some benefits to GF. IMHO, the bad and ugly outweigh the good for now when I look at a bigger picture. Is it worth our time to search for a golden needle in a haystack? The answer is no, if I need to sift through the GF haystack to find one feature that may have a small positive reward.
      The answer is yes if I can ignore GF and focus on helping students find their own golden needles in their creative minds. Our compulsory school culture has made a haystack of their brains.

      To Anonymous,
      Don’t be a hater on Kamran for presenting both sides of the issue.
      I don’t believe he is being whinny.
      (More to follow on a different post.)

      And finally. ’cause I went diggin’ for somethin’ good about GF (is this irony?):

      I provide you with these links, not to expose GradesFirst as a bad company, but to point out that there are growing pains to experience with the adoption of new technology.

  3. My biggest concern with GradesFirst has to do with merit pay. Although we have not seen our new contract, the information that Buckley sent out about the new contract (before our vote) DOES include merit pay across the district AND it states that there will be Memorandum of Understanding about individual merit pay. GradesFirst may be used to document our “merit” or lack thereof.

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