Today I had a student come into my office very upset because our placement process was inaccurate. Apparently she attended a different institution before, took a freshman English class, and was now trying to take a different class for some sort of program where I work, but she has now tried taking this class several times and continues to fail it. Somehow this is my fault, even though I had nothing to do with her taking this class, nor was I her instructor.

She was not explaining her situation very well, so I had to do some digging to figure out what happened. She went to the same institution from which I got my MA, but I am thoroughly unfamiliar with how their undergrad courses work. She gave me numbers and I gave her a blank stare because none of that meant anything to me. Something about a cohort freshman comp course that she could not pass the second part of, and thus changed schools to take the equivalent, and unfortunately couldn’t pass it then either. I was forced to figure out course sequencing at the other school so I could establish equivalency.

So, I figured out that their 115 course is freshman comp. Okay. Then they have a 114 course, which I took to mean “right below freshman comp.” Okay. The course this girl could not pass anywhere is their 113, which I then placed below their 114, which is below 115 . This is how you count, right? This makes sense to someone other than me, no?

However, we have all these fancy state websites to consult in order to make sure I do my equivalencies properly. I looked, and as it turns out their English department wasn’t counting when creating the courses, because all three of these are the same thing. So I got on the phone with their articulations officer to ask “why do you have three different numbers for the same class? Why?” She told me that they are in fact the same. Yes, well I figured that out myself. But why??

Then I texted a friend who teaches there and asked her the same question. She explained that students in 115 got the highest placement scores. The 114 students got lower scores and the 113 course is below that.

Okay, so apparently we are back to 115 is the highest, 114 is below that, and 113 is even lower. Which would mean that if you test into 113, you have to work your way up to 115. If some students test into 115 and other students test into 113, it would make sense that the 113 students be worked harder until they reach 115 level and everyone goes from there, no? I have spoken to four different people today, and this concept makes sense only to me.

I then texted a different friend and asked her if the 113 class works them harder while the 115 students get to take a break because they did better on their tests (I was trying very hard to rationalize all of this).

No, the 113 class is easier than the 115 class, because they are both worked to their abilities.

So, that means they are not the same class! I return to the first friend and ask for more clarification. She explained the reasoning behind all of this was to destigmatize remedial coursework, so everyone takes the same class but the different numbers cater to their levels. So…. that means they are not the same class!!

I know freshman comp is an abstract concept, so let’s look at this in a different, perhaps more concrete way. It would be the equivalent of needing college math to graduate, but you only know basic arithmetic, so you take a pre-algebra course and get credit for college math. How is this possible? I know I must be missing some very important piece of information because this cannot just be a thing that exists. There has to be some sort of caveat or fine print or something.

I am not sure why I am so bothered by this, but I am. And I will figure it out.