ISQ and Student Success

Questioner: Anonymous

Posed to: Pamela Chally, Intrim Provost and VP of Academic Affairs

Answered by: Pamela Chally, Intrim Provost and VP of Academic Affairs


Question 1:

The recent emphasis on ISQ bothers me as an educator. Is it my role to educate the students or make them happy? Please do not respond saying these are the same. If you want references and recent research, ISQ does not determine that. Many universities are on the path to make the ISQ result confidential and available to only the faculty while UNF posts them online by faculty and course number. Questions. 1. To what extent have you made sure that the improvement of ISQ is not coming at the cost of course quality? Many faculty are putting excessive weight on attendance, take home exams, open book exams, and grade curves so that students like them. How are colleges controlling that? Or is it a college’s policy to do only what is necessary to improve the metrics and get state money? If so, can we change the mission statement to low quality instead of high quality education?

We have been clear about our goals for UNF to increase our standing in the performance-based metrics, but never at a cost of a quality education for our students.  To draw attention, in general, to quality of instruction can only benefit students.  I do not have any data indicating that faulty are putting excessive weight on attendance, but attendance in itself is an important factor in students doing well in a class.  Alternative means of assessment are totally the decision of the faculty member.  Consequently, the choice of an open book examination is an individual faculty decision. As Academic Affairs has drawn attention to student success, we have also provided support to both faculty and students.


Question 2

It has been proven that ISQ scores are discriminating against immigrants (especially with an accent) and women. Is it in UNF’s new mission to use a statistic that has been proven to be discriminating? If the administration thinks that is not true in the case of UNF, have they done a study to make certain?

In response to a recent discussion with Faculty Association on this topic and suggested language forwarded by Terri Ellis which shows impact on gender and racial bias in evaluations, Academic Affairs requested from ITS the incorporation of suggested language in the ISQ instructions to students:

 “Student evaluations of teaching play an important role in the review of faculty. Your opinions influence the review of instructors that takes place every year. Iowa State University recognizes that student evaluations of teaching are often influenced by students’ unconscious and unintentional biases about the race and gender of the instructor. Women and instructors of color are systematically rated lower in their teaching evaluations than white men, even when there are no actual differences in the instruction or in what students have learned.  As you fill out the course evaluation please keep this in mind and make an effort to resist stereotypes about professors. Focus on your opinions about the content of the course (the assignments, the textbook, the in-class material) and not unrelated matters (the instructor’s appearance).”


Question 3

If the administration is so concerned for students, why don’t we drop the full time student requirement from 15 to 12 credits? Most students at UNF are employed, often even more than 40 hours. So forcing them to enroll for 15 credits and then blaming the faculty for their poor performance is outrageous.

Jay Coleman recently responded to a very similar question and therefore I am forwarding Jay’s response as it appropriately addresses this question:

I have a working version of a DFW model covering the entire campus (undergraduates), which includes a myriad of factors. Once I account for pre-entry characteristics, student demographics, course characteristics, the level of student engagement, instructor of the course, how much students are working off campus, etc., students attempting fewer than 15 hours actually do statistically significantly worse in their courses.  Every hour attempted below 15 is associated with about a 1.5% reduction in the odds of passing a class with an A, B, or C.

I can add that I’ve done a lot of other modelling of student success over the last 3-4 years, using a variety of outcome measures in a variety of areas, and taking less than 15 hours is frequently a negative factor. At worst, it’s a statistically insignificant one.

The question then obviously is why. Yes, there could be omitted factors involved that are skewing results, and we continue to pull in more data on more factors to help address such problems.  However, in virtually all of these models I’m accounting for the student’s academic preparation pre-entry (e.g., SAT/ACT scores and high school GPAs), which major they’re in, how much they’re working off campus, how much they’re engaged on campus (e.g., visits to the Library, Wellness Center, Game Room, Nature Trails) – i.e., things that would be expected to capture reasons why students might want to take fewer hours.

I think part of the answer is that we presume that students take the extra time that they would have been using on the fifth course and allocate it to their other four courses. Too often, they simply don’t.  Instead, that time is being spent on leisure (or other) activities instead, and depending on what those activities are, that in itself could be a bad thing.  I think another part of the answer is that hours attempted is a partial proxy for a construct that is increasingly showing up in educational research: grit.  Students with more grit – i.e., persistence, commitment, work ethic, etc. – simply do better than students with less, and high levels of grit make up for a lot.  If you’re trying fewer hours (all other things being equal), it’s just not a good sign regarding your level of grit.

Research continues, but signs are that the push for 15 has really helped the grad rate. Keep in mind that when we push taking 15, it’s for all FTICs at all points in their programs of study, not just the ones who just started.  Thus, it can have a positive and more immediate grad rate benefit for those who are late(r) in their programs.  Our 4-year grad rate has increased by nearly 50% over the last four years, from about 26% to 38.5%, and we expect next year’s number to be significantly higher.  Pushing 15 per term (or 30 per year) has a lot to do with that.