Letters to the Editor: Assessment and DWF

     A free and open press is essential to a functional democracy because it helps open spaces for the public discussion of ideas, issues, and concerns. Academia has for a long time been the primary site for generating new ideas, exploring new perspectives, and analyzing social practices. School newspapers, then, hold a unique place in the dissemination of ideas and knowledge.

     The recent Stallion article, from Feb. 12, 2019, has raised awareness and ongoing interest on the topic of grade distribution and student success. The contemporary relevance of the article is enhanced by recent reports of grade inflation in high schools and colleges and by the connection, especially in Georgia, between student grade point average and financial aid. But this is not a new topic or concern. The purpose and point of grades and grading has been debated for centuries.

     However, taking assessment out of the appropriate context may lead to further misunderstanding or false conclusions. The article on “Making the grade” is a good example of taking the assessment of learning out of appropriate context. DFW rates are only one metric that faculty and administrators use to assess learning. The assessment of learning and assessment for learning are essential for institutions of education at any level.

     At Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, assessment in the classroom is an ongoing process aimed at improving student understanding of material presented and to document and explain student performance. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and all responsible academic institutions desire to improve student learning by improving academic courses and academic programs. The broader question is how well our students are learning what we want them to know as we teach them and how well they perform once they graduate from ABAC.

     The article, as presented, is incomplete. It does not represent student success, student achievement, faculty effort or instructional quality in a holistic manner. For example, the DFW rate includes not only students who fail after attending all classes and completing all assignments, which is rare, but those students who miss over two weeks or more of class time or who simply quit coming to class altogether. It also includes students who withdraw from the class before midterm of the semester.

     In addition, the results presented are based on only one semester, and without having reference points any conclusions one might reach do not have any validity and are not credible. Some conclusions are not supported by the facts and implying faculty incompetence based on a course’s DFW rate ignores numerous contributing factors, which should be used with the necessary research methodology for fully understanding student performance. Well-designed research studies have failed to associate or link a course’s DFW rate to faculty preparation alone.

      As you might expect, intelligent and thoughtful people have come to diverse conclusions about the purpose of grades. Many have argued that if the point of education is to learn (rather than compete), why have grades at all?

     Others have argued that grades are necessary to indicate proficiency and aptitude: for college, graduate school and employment. Recently, a synthesis of sorts has been adopted by many educational theorists and instructors which supposes that teachers, professors and instructors should assess student competence, not merely at the end of the semester, but also along the way. These two types of assessment are commonly called the assessment of learning and assessment for learning. Ongoing assessment for learning allows the student and teacher to know how close the student has come to reaching the learning objective –and to allow them both to work together to clear up misconceptions. This iterative teaching style allows for improved student learning.

     There seems to be broad (though not universal) agreement that ongoing assessment is as good for pedagogy as it is for organizational processes, but there are still many ways that instructors might implement ongoing assessment—and these often relate back to a philosophy of grading. Some instructors hold the view that if the student reaches the goal with proficiency, they get an A. This view holds that whether the student reaches proficiency on the first attempt with no help, or on the third attempt after help, they have reached proficiency and deserve an A.

     Others take a different approach and reserve A’s for excellence rather than proficiency. This view values performance over proficiency. It is likely that so long as we have academic freedom, instructors will situate themselves at various places along a continuum between grading for proficiency and grading for performance. Because of this, and myriad other factors that lie beyond the scope of this editorial, any attempt to assess the quality of teaching or the quantity or quality of learning that occurs in a classroom cannot be based merely on DWF rates.

     Each semester, ABAC administrators monitor our DFW rates for core courses and have watched our statistics improve due to our attention to these “gateway” courses. We have a dedicated Center for Teaching and Learning, which focuses on teaching excellence, running workshops for faculty and a mentoring program for new faculty.

     The ABAC English department’s First Year Writing Committee has worked on assessing first-year English courses and, as a result, our pass rates are higher than the national average. Our Political Science faculty worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning to put lectures online and noticed a sharp increase in pass rates—this has led to ABAC presenting at national conferences about our lowered DFW rates. In fact, our Center for Teaching and Learning won a national grant and has worked with sister schools in the state to create a One Button Studio like the one housed in the Baldwin Library.

     This past fall, our Biology faculty began following this model, compiling their video lectures to make them available for students. The Math department has been working with both our Center for Teaching and Learning and our IT department on an extremely innovative pilot program involving tablets in the classroom.  ABAC may be a small school, but we have gained national attention for our commitment to teaching. We call ourselves a teaching institution because we take teaching seriously. The administration, faculty, students and stakeholders at ABAC are all interested in the quality of teaching and learning.

     The general sense is that ABAC does a fine job: students leave here, get good jobs, get positive reports from their employers, and those who choose to go to graduate school are very competitive. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that we continue to monitor and assess the quality of education at ABAC so that we can ensure ongoing and continued improvement and excellence.

Agriculture, Featured, News

Georgia government officials meet over disaster relief

     Pick-up trucks flooded the parking lot at the UGA Conference Center as farmers walked into the auditorium hoping to hear good news from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Ag. Commissioner Gary Black. The meeting was hosted by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

     The pair flew into Tifton by helicopter to discuss disaster relief efforts happening in Washington D.C.  to help farmers affected by Hurricane Michael. Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and U.S. Congressmen Austin Scott, Sanford Bishop and Buddy Carter joined the discussion through a video conference call.   

     The state’s agriculture industry suffered a loss in the following areas: peanuts, poultry, soybeans, dairy, pecans, greens, timber, vegetables and fruit. The University of Georgia estimates a $2.5 billion loss for Georgia agriculture, including a $780 million loss in timber alone.

     Senator Perdue used his time to make an apology to the farmers in the audience, “I want to apologize to all the farmers out there in this meeting. Washington was here and saw it firsthand after the storm and they told us they had our backs.” Perdue has talked with President Trump and was assured of his full support to push the legislation through the senate and congress.

     Kemp said “I’m all for helping everybody else that needs it after a disaster—whether that’s California after a wildfire, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina. We have helped our neighbors when they needed help, and I called Governor Ivey after the devastating storm that hit Lee County and offered our support. That offer still stands, but we need our help too.”

     A day after the deadly tornados swept through the state, Kemp received a phone call from the president. The governor used the conversation as an opportunity to express the urgency in expediting the aid to the southeast.

     The Georgia House of Representatives enacted House Bill 4EX, which allows eligible taxpayers to apply for the Timber Tax Credit from the Georgia Department of Revenue (GADOR). The program is limited to the 28 counties, including Tift, in the governor’s disaster declaration area. The tax credit should assist farmers in offsetting economic losses from Hurricane Michael.

     Initially, a $1 billion aid package failed to meet the approval of President Donald Trump because the deal included more funding for Puerto Rico who suffered crippling destruction from Hurricane Maria.

      Senator Isakson weighed in on the issue concerning Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico is not a state, they suffered terrible damage, but they also have a crime-ridden government. Their electrical power grid has more power stolen off it than people who live there that pay for it.” He then commended President Trump, for doing everything he can to save taxpayers money.

     Congressman Scott pointed out the silver lining about the difference between the original legislatures and the current. “The original legislation was drafted at 1 billion dollars. That’s not 1 billion dollars for Georgia, that’s one billion dollars for the entire southeast and for California’s wildfires.”

     Scott continued, “We are much better off with a $3 billion appropriation passing this month than we would have been with a $1 billion appropriation passing in November or December.”

     An agribusiness owner asked if destroyed warehouses and facilities would be covered in the legislation. Bishop weighed in by saying, “The Small Business Administration has a part to play in terms of supporting agribusiness and including in the overall disaster package resources to deal with that.

     “Along with that,” Bishop continued, “The Community Facilities Program has $150 million for grants to facilities and services that are essential to our rural communities. That entire package will be there to help rehabilitate and support our rural communities and that includes agribusinesses.”

     In late February, Perdue and Isakson introduced a bill to the Senate for $13.6 billion in relief efforts to places affected by natural disasters. The bill has support from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The senators from Georgia were promised by McConnell that the bill would receive floor time before the last Monday in March so that it can be passed.

     Members of the audience expressed appreciation for Kemp and Black meeting in person with farmers amid the General Assembly session happening in Atlanta. Though appreciative, members expressed their exhaustion from dealing with the relief delays.

     Bishop explained why farmers are having trouble securing operational loans for the rapidly approaching planting season. “Time is of the essence,” said Bishop. “They’ve got to make sure that arrangements are made for last year’s operational loans to be satisfied so that lenders will know what will be coming forward so that everybody can make plans.”

     Congressman Carter praised Bishop and Scott for spearheading this legislation. “Especially thank these two guys [Scott and Bishop] in the house. It was a team effort in the house, but these two guys were the leaders.”

     Despite support from the President and Senate, it could take the house of representatives several weeks to finalize the aid package. David Bishop, a farmer from Hawkinsville, worried—despite having disaster relief—if he and other farmers would benefit after the losses brought on by the storm.

     Despite justified concerns with the timeliness of receiving relief after a five-month wait, the audience gave their politicians respect and support to continue fighting on their behalf.

     Future meetings will be held in South Georgia to discuss more information about the Timber Tax Credit from the GADOR. The closest meeting will be March 13, at the UGA Cooperative Extension Office in Cordele at 6:30 p.m.


Letters to the Editor: The facts about Student Activity Fees and ABAC

     According to the University System of Georgia (USG), Board of Regents (BOR) Policy Manual Section, Student Activity Fees are one of several “mandatory fees.” Other mandatory fees include intercollegiate athletic fees, student health service fees, transportation or parking fees and technology fees.  The purpose and the amount of fees must be approved by the Board of Regents, administered by the President, or his designee, and established subject to advise and counsel by an advisory committee made up of at least 50 percent students.   

     At ABAC, advice and counsel has been delegated to the Mandatory Fee Committee, Section of ABAC Policy.  It consists of six (6) students to include the President of the ABAC Student Government Association (SGA), four (4) students appointed by SGA President and one (1) student appointed by the President of the College.  There are four (4) non-student members, two (2) appointed by the Vice President for Finance and Operations (VPFO), one (1) appointed by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and one (1) appointed by the Vice President for Technology.  As you can see, students make up 60 percent of the committee.

     The ABAC Mandatory Fee Committee reports to the VPFO.  They meet each fall to advise the administration on the establishment of Mandatory Fees, including the Student Activity Fee.  Institutional approval of the Student Activity Fee is made by the Cabinet upon the recommendation of the VPFO.  Once approved, the fee becomes part of ABAC’s budget request to the USG and is subject to BOR approval.

     This process has been in place for several years.  The $50 per semester Student Activity Fee applies to all students who enroll in six or more credit hours of coursework.  Students who take less than six (6) semester credit hours pay $25 per semester.  Students who take courses online only or who are Dual Enrollment students do not pay the Student Activity Fee.    

     The Student Activity Fee is placed on the student’s bill each semester and is collected along with tuition, other fees, and charges for housing and dining.   

     Student Activity Fees are spent in support of activities that benefit students.  Allocation of Student Activity Fees is determined based on a tier-based system put into place in 2013 after careful study of how several other institutions allocated Student Activity Fees.   

     From 2013 until this year, there were four tiers (categories).  They are as follows:  Category 1–Capital Reserves–25  percent of fees collected each year are placed into capital reserves to fund future capital projects in support of student activities, i.e. construction of student recreation fields, renovation of Thrash Wellness Center, etc.  The next project will likely be the lighting of the intramural fields.

     Category 2–Institutional Programs–typically, 50 to 60 percent of fees collected each year are allocated to programs that support activities which serve students across the College, i.e. SGA, CAB, the Student Activities Program, recreational sports, the Ambassadors, student media and other cultural programs.

     Category 3–Academically-allied Programs– typically, up to 20 percent of Student Activity Fees collected each year are allocated to co-curricular programs that are in direct support of academic programs at the College.  The total amount and distribution of these funds is determined by the number of clubs that meet the criteria for Category 3, the number of students enrolled in the programs that are affiliated with the activity, and historical spending trends.  To be included in Category 3, the organization must be directly linked to an academic program, be linked to a regional or national organization that has collegiate education as a part of its mission and be able to demonstrate that the organization contributes to leadership development, career development or scholarship.   

     Category 4–Interclub Council– formerly, this category included all “interest” clubs, that is clubs and organizations that did not meet the criteria for inclusion in Category 3.   Category 4 was eliminated during the fiscal year 2019 budget development (April of 2018).  Rather, CAB was asked to host and fund a once-per-semester “club rush,” where all interest groups could be present to promote their clubs/organizations to students.

     Recommended allocations, both across and within categories, are determined during budget development each year (typically late March) and are presented for advice and counsel to the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC), which like the Mandatory Fee Committee, is a student-dominated committee.  It consists of ten (10) persons, seven (7) of which are students, to include President of the ABAC SGA, three (3) students selected by SGA, and three (3) students appointed by the President.  The remaining three members include one (1) non-student appointed by the VPFO, one (1) non-student appointed by the Dean of Students, and one (1) non-student appointed by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.   

     The allocation process has remained constant since 2013, except for the changes made for the current academic year.  These changes were necessitated by the consolidation of ABAC and Bainbridge State College, the consolidation of six ABAC schools into four, the growth of participation in recreational sports and the opening of Thrash Wellness Center and the Foundation Legacy Pool Complex.   

     Increased enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs with a corresponding decline in transfer students, along with a College plan that encourages faculty and student engagement has changed the dynamics of student clubs and organizations.  Personnel costs are no longer funded with Student Activity Funds except for Wellness Center and pool staff, recreational sports personnel, student activity personnel and BOR-directed stipends to certain SGA officers.

     Accountability for the proper expenditure of Student Activity Funds ultimately resides with the President.  However, operational responsibility for the expenditure of Student Activity fees resides with the VPFO, as is the case with all institutional funds.  The College’s comptroller assures that these funds are spent in accordance with state, USG and college expenditure control procedures.

     For more detailed information on the collection and expenditure of Student Activity Funds, please see the ABAC website.


A Golden Parachute: ABAC writes $100,000 check for ex-police chief

Photo of former Police Chief Bryan Golden courtesy of WALB.

     ABAC wrote former campus Police Chief, Bryan Golden, a $100,000 check as part of a settlement agreement between ABAC and Golden.

     Golden was terminated from his position on Nov. 13, 2015. He was previously suspended without pay from ABAC Oct. 26, 2015, due to his comments in an interview with The Stallion Newspaper and was required to take sensitivity training.

     In the story titled “One in four college women have survived rape or attempted rape,” printed Oct. 27, 2015, Golden was quoted saying, “Most of these sexual assaults are women waking up the next morning with a guilt complex. That ain’t rape, that’s being stupid. When the dust settles, it was all consensual. It doesn’t happen here. It doesn’t show up here. They’re about as much a rape as a goat roping.”

     Golden refused an interview about the settlement.

     ABAC and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia issued the settlement in order to “avoid further controversy and to resolve and settle all disputes existing between them.”

     The litigation was finalized on December 21, 2017. The payment was made public in the fiscal year 2018 state financial report on June 30, 2018. It was paid for with state funds.

     In the settlement, Golden and his legal representation claim Golden was terminated “without providing him any specific reasons, therefore, in writing or otherwise, other than the alleged comments for which it previously had already disciplined him by suspending him without pay and by issuing a final reprimand to him, and without permitting Golden an opportunity to respond to the charges either before he was terminated, or after he was terminated.”

     Golden and his legal representation additionally claimed that his suspension was due to “allegedly engaging in an inappropriate conversation with the college newspaper,” that Golden denied, and was not given an opportunity to present his case before a disciplinary review panel of some kind.

     In a press conference hosted by President David Bridges Nov. 14, 2015, Bridges announced the termination and said, “An effective law enforcement department requires public credibility and trust. The public’s trust in Bryan Golden’s leadership has seemingly been eroded to a point where he cannot ensure integrity in his function with the police department that must be insured. The inappropriate comments made by the chief and reported in The Stallion were reprehensible and inexcusable.”

     Jenna Pope, author of the “One in Four” story, after hearing word that the settlement was made said, “When Bryan Golden said something that implied that his prior behavior was not receptive to women’s experiences or that they could not comfortably report their experiences in the future, he damaged his own reputation and the reputation of ABAC. For ABAC to reward him with a $100,000 settlement instead of trying to improve campus safety (as was the immediate response from female students on campus), to give that to someone who showed such little regard for women’s safety, is very offensive as a survivor of sexual assault and as author of the article.”

     Shelby Evans, Editor of The Stallion at the time and contributor to the “One in four” story has mixed feelings about the settlement. “After he resigned, I felt bad about it. He lost a good paying job right before the holidays, and listen, I grew up poor so I understand what that’s like. So part of me thinks the settlement was okay because it matches the money he lost during that time.”

     Evans is also a survivor of sexual assault, but she believes it’s important to separate her emotions about that from her thoughts so that she can remain compassionate. She thinks it’s important students and taxpayers know how their money is spent but doesn’t think Golden should be vilified.

     She continues, “Ultimately, I’m not personally responsible for what happened and what has happened after the story was published, but I do feel like our campus is safer and more receptive to people who experience assault and, to me, that fact matters most.”

Addendum: March 14, 2019

     ABAC officials declined to comment on the settlement, saying that discussing personnel matters is against college policy. 

     Lindsey Roberts, director of marketing and communications at ABAC, said in a written statement in reference to campus safety, “The ABAC Police Department has a staff of 15 State Sworn Certified Peace Officers working 8-hour shifts to provide Law Enforcement and security services to the Campus community and its visitors.”
    ABAC has made additions to campus since the “One in four” story to better ensure safety for the campus community and visitors according to Roberts. Additional lighting and emergency call boxes have been installed on campus and the LiveSafe app was implemented in 2016 for ABAC students, faculty and staff. The LiveSafe app is a mobile safety communications platform built for universities and businesses.


New sororities could bring diversity to campus

     Sigma Gamma Rho (ΣΓΡ) visited ABAC in bright colors of gold and royal blue. The sorority was one of two that visited ABAC in hopes of starting a new chapter on campus.

     Both Alpha Sigma Alpha and Sigma Gamma Rho are currently under contemplation for expansion at ABAC. If either, or both sororities are approved, students will have a wider range of Greek sororities to choose from. Currently, ABAC has one sorority and three fraternities, Sigma Alpha, Lambda Sigma Upsilon, Alpha Gamma Rho and Kappa Sigma.

     Sigma Alpha is the only female Greek sorority amongst the four on campus. If Sigma Gamma Rho or Alpha Sigma Alpha, the other sorority being contemplated, are approved, female students can look forward to having an option when choosing a sorority.

     Sigma Gamma Rho is the only sorority of the four historically African-American sororities which comprise the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), that was established at a predominately white campus. The NPHC is currently composed of nine international Greek letter sororities and fraternities.

     Sigma Gamma Rho has over 500 chapters worldwide, including Bermuda, The Bahamas, Canada, Africa and Korea. It is the mission of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority to enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally.

     They wish for “Greater Service, Greater Progress” through various community development activities, and workshops members support the improved welfare of their communities and youth. Ms. Lawanna Barron, President of Kappa Psi Sigma Alumnae, spoke about some of these initiatives. “In August 2018, Kappa Psi Sigma Alumnae Chapter conducted Operation BigBookBag at the Tifton Housing Authority and gave away book bags with school supplies to 50 youth.” The Sorority also gave a college scholarship to a student at Tift County High School.

     Ms. Barron expressed an appreciation towards ABAC and its students, “ABAC is a great institution that has changed the lives of students, communities and families throughout Georgia, the United States and abroad.

     The recent expansion of ABAC in South Georgia shows its commitment to promoting education, diversity and service. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. wants to be a partner.”

     If accepted for expansion, Sigma Gamma Rho and Alpha Sigma Alpha will allow female students to enter a sorority, without needing prior qualifications, such as being an Agriculture major. ABAC’s decision is a much-anticipated event.

Want to know more?

These links will provide more information on Sigma Gamma Rhos history, sisterhood, and partnership with USA Swimming.