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.


Sports Spotlight: Softball Coach Jennifer Walls

     Fillies’ Softball Coach, Jennifer Walls, said that the key to her softball philosophy is to “always be a student of the game; you’re never too old, you’re never too good of a player to stop growing physically and mentally,” even at the instructors’ level.

     Walls said, “the game of softball is always changing, so sometimes the coaching styles always have to adapt to the game.” Change also happens to be a big reason behind her love for coaching.

     “I really like seeing the players develop and it’s crazy to see a group like my sophomores—they’re a completely different set of players than they were a year ago.”

     A native of southern California, Walls started playing ball as a catcher when she was eight years old. At 12, she began pitching and hated it. In her undergrad years, Walls went to Long Beach State in Southern California for two years. “I really played for a coach that made me hate the game… I was miserable,” she recalled.

     She was released after her sophomore year and transferred to Arizona. While there, Walls “got the opportunity to pitch in the College World Series in 2009, of course, Alabama beat us, but it was still a great experience.”

     After college ball, Walls played professional ball in Italy for about 13 months. She said it was a great experience and wishes she could go back. After Italy, Walls looked towards furthering her education and sent out her resume to as many schools as she could. Georgia Southwestern University offered her a grad. assistant position.

     “Basically, I would go there, they’d pay for my master’s degree, pay for where I lived and gain some coaching experience.”

     After three years of school and a degree, Walls moved back to California, but she quickly realized “I missed Georgia.”

     “Coach Donna Campbell—I had become friends with her while I was coaching at Georgia Southwestern—was about to retire,” added Walls.

     Campbell called her and told her to apply for the opening at ABAC. Walls said, “When I applied, I think it was only two or three days before the deadline so I thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to get it,’ and I let Donna know I applied.”

     Athletic Director Alan Kramer contacted her for an interview, in which she flew from California to tour ABAC’s campus.

     “I flew back home and found out I got the job. I told my dad, ‘I guess I’m packing up my stuff again and moving back to Georgia,’ and he was like ‘this is the last time you’re moving.’”

     Jennifer Walls began her new position on Aug. 1, 2015, and the Fillies currently stand at 18-12.

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.


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.


Replacing your windshield wiper blades

     The windshield wiper blades on your car have a limited life span due to the breakdown of the rubber compound they are made of. Over time, the elements and the friction on the window wear the blade down. Here in South Georgia, with fluctuating weather, we never know what the next minute will bring. It is good to check windshield wipers and replace them before they create a problem.

     Rather than waiting for the next time, you can’t see to drive, inspect both blades by pulling them off the windshield. Look for blade brittleness or hardness. If the blade is soft and pliable, it should be fine for now. They should be checked every 2 to 4 months depending on how often they are used. Many newer crossovers and SUV’s have rear wiper blades that should be checked as well.

     Blades should be replaced, at a minimum, once a year, but it is recommended to replace them twice a year. Once in the spring—due to the cold temperatures of the winter­—and in the fall—due to potential dry rot from the summer.

     If your blades are in need of replacement, there are two main attachment methods car manufacturers use. One uses a hook that the blade slides on. To remove this type of wiper blade, pull the wiper off the windshield and turn the blade over so the blade is facing upward. Push away from the closed portion of the hook. The blade should disconnect from the wiper arm. Then, maneuver it off the arm. To replace the blade, turn the pivot point of the blade upward and maneuver it onto the wiper arm. With the wiper on the arm, push upward aligning the pivot point and the hook. The blade should snap into place.

     The second main method uses a pin and a retaining tab. Like with the hook attachment method, begin by lifting the blade off the windshield. The retaining tab must be pushed to the side for blade removal. It is located between the two metal rails on the wiper blade. Pull or push­—depending on car model— it out and away from the wiper arm. The blade can then be easily lifted off the pin. To install a new blade, lift the retaining tab out from the wipers metal rail. Then, slide the wiper onto the arm. Next, push the retaining tab in-between the wipers metal rail. This should lock the blade to the arm.

     After installing new blades, always make sure each blade is secured to the wiper arm. Simply pull on the blade with light force in the direction it would be removed. If it doesn’t give or come off, it should be fine. Another method of testing is to turn on the windshield wiper blades and allow them to make two or three complete rotations.