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Uncovering the urban legend: The most failed class at UO



A popular idea that has come under investigation is that Math 111 is the most failed class at the University of Oregon.

The Emerald recently attained a copy of the Fall 2015 grade distributions from the UO registrar office, detailing the percentages of grade options for UO classes that term.

Of the 1,215 students who took Math 111 in fall 2015, 133 received either an F or an N (no pass) – more students failed Math 111 compared to any other class.

These students are in the category of DFWs, according to UO Math Professor Chris Sinclair. DFWs are students who receive a grade of D, F or withdraw from the class. Math 111 had 307 students that fell into that category. Chemistry 221 held second place, with 266 DFWs.

Sinclair is an associate professor in the mathematics department. He has heard that Math 111 is “the most failed class,” but doesn’t currently teach it.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Sinclair said about the course’s reputation. “Let’s suppose we make Math 111 easier, then what happens in Math 251? We have to dumb down Math 251 because we have a lot more people who know less than they should coming in.”

Graduate Teaching Fellows most commonly teach Math 111 at UO, according to Sinclair, usually while they are taking a teacher’s education class. Sinclair doesn’t attribute this to the failure rate, but rather he thinks it benefits the student-teacher relationship because GTFs are able to relate to the students more, he said.

“As you get further and further into the depths of mathematics, you forget how hard it was the first time,” he said.

Houston Greenberg, a sports business student at UO, took Math 111 his freshman year. He learned about the class’ reputation after reading it on his syllabus, he said.

While taking Math 111, Greenberg learned that a lot of students who failed the course would then revert to take Math 95 and repeat Math 111 two terms later.

“I knew a lot of people in [Math 111] that were getting D’s and F’s, which was surprising.” Greenberg said. He finished the course on his first attempt with an A-, he said.

“What was really nice about 111 was it was in a small classroom with like 20, 30 kids, so if I needed help, I could go right to [the teacher], as opposed to my calc class which was 400 people,” Greenberg said.

Another class — Math 315 — emerges from the data with the highest failure rate with about 33 percent failing, 8.33 percent withdrawing and about 16 percent with a no-pass — totaling about 57 percent. However, a mere 12 students took the course, compared to 1215 students in Math 111. Math 315 introduces the “methods of proof” necessary for calculus and related fields, Sinclair wrote in an email.

Sinclair thinks the reason so many dislike math is due to the “social attitude towards mathematics,” he said.

“If you’re in the situation, and you are terrified that you’re going to fail Math 111, then really the solution is to talk with the person teaching it, let them know of your fears, but also have some sort of expectation that you can do this.”

“We can’t have half of our population going around saying, ‘I can’t do math.’ That’s why people fail Math 111, not because it’s too hard,” he said. “There’s always going to be some class that has the most failures, unless we don’t fail anybody.”

Download the UO grade distribution report for fall 2015: grade_distributions_emerald_f15 (1)


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Will Campbell

Will Campbell

I'm the Senior News Editor at the Emerald. I was born and raised in Vancouver, WA.