How many classes are you enrolled in that require attendance points to receive a passing grade? Chances are, the majority of the courses you’re taking this semester use this tactic to increase participation. Even math and science courses use this method with iClickers, attendance sheets and pop quizzes each day. As you enter more upper division classes you expect some of these methods to fade. After all, you’re an adult and can manage your own workload, right?
There are a few problems with this approach of making attendance mandatory. The overall intention seems to be to help students with productivity, participation and having the appropriate information to pass exams and essays.
But the message this sends to students is never taken into consideration. Do we want to portray that the better half of success is achieved just by showing up?
For many classes, it’s important students understand and think about the material they’re given. If you’re a medical student, for example it’s critical that the student shows they have mastered the material in order to earn an appropriate grade for their work, otherwise there is risk for malpractice or misinformation when the student enters their career.
On the other hand, some students who produce great quality work are penalized just because of poor attendance grades. These policies are great for keeping students on track and accountable, but it fails to meet accommodations for students in need. Though an absence may technically be “excused” for disability needs, family issues or time off after the death of a loved one, that doesn’t mean the professor will not deduct points for absences.
In fact, the majority of the time those absences still count against the student. College students have lives that extend beyond class hours. Some teachers continue to penalize students over circumstances that remain out of their control. Does punishing a student for being sick or experiencing a tragedy really teach them how to be more responsible?
There comes a point where enough absences can prove a student may not have deserved credit for the course. However, some classes mark percentage points off for every absence, or don’t provide enough allowed absences for the course. If a student becomes ill, they are penalized, sometimes even with the proof of a doctors’ note.
The truth is, attendance can be proven through essays and test scores. Comprehension seems to be taking a backseat to signing signatures on a piece of paper or clicking a button on an iClicker. We should not stop implementing attendance policies, but rather find ways to modify them to meet the students’ needs more than what statistics look best on paper.
There comes a point where incentivizing goes too far in college classes and we forget about values of compassion and understanding. We forget that a student’s future career requires self-motivation and knowledge in order to succeed, not just the ability to be present.