Monday, January 31, 2022

Dirty Laundry

I would imagine that almost all of us in the ASP world see students who are in academic difficulty: those who are on warning, probation, and even double secret probation now and then.[1] I know I work with students in classroom settings and one on one who have been told they must seek my help to stay in school. Some students are right on the (wrong) edge of the standards that would exclude them from these graduation conditions, and they are, usually, unhappy about the circumstances. And they are right-because some of the requirements and limitations may only serve to dig them deeper into the hole they barely fell into in the first place.

One example of this is a list of required classes that students must take depending on their GPA. The classes are carefully curated to correlate to bar passage. Yet, they also tend to be bigger upper-level classes (at least 40+ students), so chances are that there is a mandatory grading curve applied to these classes. Sometimes the grading curve (required by many schools especially in the 1L Year) may be the reason the student is in this predicament in the first place. And thus, students who might have easily dug themselves out of academic difficulty in their 2L year by being able to choose classes that are better suited to their interests and strengths, find themselves further entrenched. To make matters worse, these classes also tend to have one summative assessment to earn that curved grade. Sometimes the issues students face are far more exam related than comprehension related.

These same students are also often locked out of, or put at the bottom of the list for, clinics and other programs that give them experience (needed for graduation) and confidence (also needed for graduation). This is exactly the kind of class experience that students who struggle with exams need. This is where they could shine, if they could just reach the light switch.

A student who is currently occupying this space met with me last week and told me that she felt, particularly in light of the pandemic and the chaotic atmosphere of her first year, that she was being kicked while she was down. Even more disheartening, she felt that she was still being kicked while on her way back up. It reminded me of the song Dirty Laundry (Don Henley-and if you also remember this song, we are both officially pretty old).[2] The chorus of this song, “kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down, kick ‘em all around,” is what came to mind in that moment.  Considering the NextGen bar exam that incoming classes (next year’s incoming evening students at my school, for example) will be taking, perhaps we need to rethink how we handle students when they’re down. The new edition of the bar exam will emphasize competencies over memorization.[3] While we will still all encounter students who may not be up to the task, there are many students clinging to edge of the cliff who are absolutely capable of finding solid ground-given the chance. Let’s throw them a rope. I don’t want students to think that we, “love it when people lose.[4]

(Liz Stillman)


[1] Ok--that is not a real thing, but I thought it was clever to slip in a reference to the movie Animal House and see if anyone noticed. Of course, explaining the reference in a footnote kind of defeats the humor….




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