Permanent changes to satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading will come to Trinity College of Arts and Sciences starting fall 2021, while improvements to student testing accommodations are in the works.
At its meeting last month, the Arts and Sciences Council heard a proposal from its Curriculum Committee about two permanent changes to Trinity’s satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system starting fall 2021. With one vote in opposition and a few abstentions, the council approved an amended version of the proposal on Thursday.
Under the approved policy, students who receive an S in a S/U class will receive curriculum codes, which fulfill distribution requirements. Students who wish to enroll in a course on an S/U basis must obtain permission from the course instructor and their academic dean, according to a summary of changes to the policy presented by Jesse Summers, adjunct assistant professor of philosophy.
Students who enrolled in a course on a graded basis have until the withdrawal deadline—usually four weeks before the end of a course—to switch from graded to S/U. Students who earn an S grade may not convert their grade to a letter grade, and the course may not be retaken.
Courses taken S/U count toward distribution requirements under a temporary policy put in place this semester. Thursday’s faculty vote permanently extends that change.
S/U courses will continue to count toward the required number of courses for graduation, as they do currently and did before the pandemic.
Summers also presented a change in how faculty should decide if they want their class to be taken S/U. Because this change was not in the original discussion and proposal process, however, José María Rodríguez García, associate professor of romance studies, said that the council will consider that section later as an amendment.
The section, which was not included in the final vote, stated that “if an instructor does not want students to take the course S/U, this decision must be made for the entire class, must be specified before the class begins,” according to Summers’ presentation. It added that if the faculty has not made that decision, “the default is that students would be eligible to take the course S/U.”
Updates on student testing accommodations
The council also heard updates from Connel Fullenkamp, professor of the practice of economics; Leigh Fickling, executive director of the Disability Management System; and junior Shrey Majmudar, Duke Student Government vice president of academic affairs, about student accommodations in the classroom.
Fickling said that in the last 11 years, the number of students registered with the Student Disability Access Office has risen from 30 to 1050—including 762 undergraduate and 288 graduate and professional students. These accommodations have also become more serious, Fickling said.
Fullenkamp said that this conversation was initiated after faculty became increasingly frustrated with ad-hoc arrangements for accommodations, often leading to “clunky work-arounds that didn’t live up to the spirit of good accommodations.”
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A permanent academic testing center in Trent Hall was piloted during fall 2019 and fully opened in spring 2020. It was going quite well, Fullenkamp said, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“The pandemic has been a big setback for the testing center because of how everything had to change for the adaptation to online teaching and online testing,” Fullenkamp said. “Nonetheless, the creation of the testing center is a huge win for us.”
477 of the 762 undergraduates registered with the SDAO have testing accommodations and are able to use the testing center, Fickling said. The testing center is designed to help faculty more easily meet the needs of different students with their particular accommodation.
She added that the center is wheelchair accessible and able to support students with various learning needs.
Majmudar highlighted a few current challenges, including that first-years are not made aware of or do not seek the SDAO process far enough in advance until it is too already too late in the semester.
Additionally, there are issues with the testing center, including its faraway location that makes it inconvenient for students to travel between classes, and that the pandemic has made students prefer private online testing windows instead.
To deal with some of these challenges, Fickling said that Cort Schneider, the new director of the SDAO, has begun daily drop-in virtual office hours for faculty, students and parents with questions about student disability accommodations. The office also worked with ADA Vans Transportation to ensure Duke Vans can pick up and drop off students at the Trent testing center to minimize the distance between the center and the main quad.
The office is also increasing faculty training videos and support resources and speeding up its turnaround time for accommodation approval and implementation—now averaging four days.