The Inside Story on Midterm Grades

My daughter is now in the spring semester of her senior year, and, for the first time, she sent me her midterm grades—without my asking. I’m sure the reason is that she had all A’s for the first time.

Looking back, her explanations for previous less-than-stellar midterm grades probably contained at least a grain of truth: not much work graded yet, not all grades factored into the midterm average, forgot her calculator for her first accounting test, etc.

Some of those explanations (with the notable exception of the forgotten calculator) are echoed in this Q&A with Dr. Emily Heady, senior director of student success and retention. Dr. Heady provides insight into midterm grades, which are due out this week, including
*What you shouldn’t worry about
*Red flags
*How to deal with low midterm grades

I hope you find the information below helpful.

—Sabrina Brown

Dr. Emily Heady is the senior director of student success and retention at Longwood.

What is the purpose of midterm grades?

They’re sort of like split times in a long race—they let you know what your progress is at the halfway mark. They can be encouraging, or they might be an indication that you need to pick up the pace.

Do all faculty report midterm grades for every class?

No. They’re required for all freshmen, as well as for some other populations (ROTC and students in academic difficulty, for example). Otherwise, midterm grades are optional.

Why should parents ask to see midterm grades?

Every semester, I get calls from parents who weren’t aware their students were in trouble in particular courses. My first move is to check the midterm grades, and, most of the time, the student had plenty of warning.

Here’s what I tell students about midterm grades, and I’d love for parents to overhear it:

If you’ve got all A’s and B’s, that simply means that what you’re doing is working—so keep it up! If the grades aren’t what you hoped for, it’s still good to have the information. If you want to stay in the class, know that there’s still time to regroup.

In most college classes, the majority of the points are awarded at the end of the term. A grade of C or lower at midterm would be an indication that you need to use your resources: Visit the professor during office hours, use the Writing Center or Center for Academic Success, and/or make changes to your study habits.

If you’re simply lost in a class, you may want to think about withdrawing and trying it again at a later point. If you want to withdraw, be sure to speak to your academic adviser, as lowering the number of credit hours you’re taking below 12 might have implications for your financial aid.

What should students keep in mind if they’re considering withdrawing from a course?

Withdrawing may be a good option if the student can afford to hit the “pause” button and take the course again at a later time. But there may be consequences. First, if the student’s credit hours for the semester dip below 12 hours, their financial aid may be affected. Also, if they withdraw from a course that they need to stay on track for their major, they may not be able to graduate at the time they originally planned.

Is Longwood able to provide parents with access to their student’s grades?

Students’ records are protected by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and we follow those policies. That means we can’t give out grades unless the student has signed a release. If students have signed a release for their academic records, we are able to discuss their academic progress with parents, but we have to do so in a way that’s in the student’s academic interests.

Typically, if a parent calls wanting grades, we’ll respond by asking the student to share them, or we’ll offer to serve as moderators in a conversation in which the student and parent discuss the grades together. We won’t simply tattle, as it’s not in the student’s best interests.

We honor the students as the legal adults that they are and help them learn to have the grownup conversations that will continue to be part of their lives.

At what point are midterm grades a red flag?

A grade of D or F is definitely something to worry about. A C might be something to worry about, but isn’t necessarily, depending on the types of assignments that the grade includes. If the grade mostly reflects one big exam and the student is a better writer than test-taker, a C might turn into a B—but it’s still worth watching!

Especially in “make-or-break” classes—those typically challenging courses that students need to complete as requirements of their major—we want to see strong performance. Grades in these classes usually indicate whether a student will succeed in a particular major.

What can parents do to help students whose midterm grades are of concern?

*First, ask your student if they’re going to see their professor during office hours (which are designated times when faculty are in their offices and available to talk to students). The faculty member is the first and best resource.
*Ask your student if they’ve used tutoring resources, and encourage them to reach out.
*Ask your student how they’re spending their time, especially if they’re doing their work BEFORE they socialize.
*Ask what their plan is to get back on track.

Personnel in the Center for Academic Success are always ready to meet with students who need to make a game plan.

What questions should a student ask themselves to determine whether or not they’re able to recover from a low midterm grade?

*How may points are left?
*Can I get the grades I need on the remaining assignments?
*Can I commit to increase my study time?
*Can I make some life decisions that enable to me set a new course?

What steps can students take before midterm to be sure they’re on solid ground academically?

Students who do well typically go to class, turn in all their work in a timely fashion, use office hours and other resources as needed, and make healthy life choices.

The fastest way to get off track is to skip class. There are attendance policies, and students will often miss important instruction and even opportunities to earn points if they skip. The second-fastest way is not to ask for help when you need it. Longwood is a very success-minded place. We want students to do well, and we have all kinds of resources to help this happen. But if students don’t use the resources, we can’t help. Encourage your student to ask.

Why is it better to drop a course earlier in the semester than to withdraw after midterm grades?

Dropping has fewer consequences than withdrawing. If a student drops during the add/drop period, they have a chance to add another class in place of the one they dropped. Dropping has no financial implications, and the student will receive a full refund for the class—though they still need to be careful to maintain the required number of credit hours and to be mindful of their progress toward degree.

What’s the most important thing for parents to remember about midterm grades?

They’re not the final word. They’re a helpful indication of progress thus far, and that’s how they should be taken—as something that’s meant to help. Ultimately, the burden is on the student to take action. Longwood stands ready to help, but the student needs to ask.

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