Proposals will limit the number of A’s given

Princeton officials released a list of proposals to curb grade inflation last Wednesday in a move that crowned the university’s six-year focus on grading practices at the university.

Princeton College Dean Nancy Malkiel sent an e-mail to faculty members Wednesday introducing them to the proposals that will be presented at an Apr. 26 faculty meeting. The e-mail cited a study from the 2002-2003 school year indicating that 47 to 48 percent of grades given to undergraduates at Princeton were some form of A. If approved by the faculty, the new grading policy will limit the number of A’s awarded to undergraduates to 35 percent.

The purpose of the efforts to assess the grading policy are establish a common grading standard for all undergraduate departments and provide a clearer understanding of letter grades’ value, Malkiel said in the memo.

“These proposals are designed to assist the faculty in bringing grade inflation under reasonable control,” Malkiel said.

Recently, many other universities have expressed concern over grade inflation. This February, two years after national news coverage addressed accusations of grade inflation at Harvard University, Harvard Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross said in a letter that grades were once again on the rise among Harvard students and that he further committed his efforts to curb this growth.

Unlike Princeton and Harvard, Yale does not release a report on the distribution of grades. Yale University President Richard Levin said the administration does not think inflation at Yale is an issue.

“We don’t see it as a major problem,” Levin said. “I think Yale students do very good work.”

Malkiel said grade inflation has increased in spite of the university’s attempts to prevent it.

“Despite our best efforts to the contrary, grades have continued to go up since we began our work,” Malkiel said

Malkiel said the new proposal sets Princeton apart from its peer institutions.

“The proposed grading standard responds to the desire of the department chairs that all departments be asked to meet common expectations,” Malkiel said. “It responds to the desire of students for evenhandedness in grading across the departments. And it positions Princeton to take national leadership in tackling what has seemed an intractable national problem.”

Princeton has been working to establish a more universal grading system over the past six years and has made progress in increasing awareness, Malkiel said.

“Departments have responded constructively to the — request to take stock of their own grading patterns, make changes where appropriate, and establish written standards and practices for grading,” she said.

The new grading policy will allow for flexibility within each department — no more than 35 percent of total grades within a department may be A’s under the new system, Malkiel said. The purpose of the proposals is to force departments, through their own determinations, to meet a grading standard, she said.

“If all departments agree to act in concert, the incentives change; faculty can cooperate across departments to bring grading under more reasonable control,” Malkiel said.

Ceciliana Stubbe, a senior at Princeton, said she fears this new policy will create a more competitive environment at the university.

“When you go to schools like Princeton, Yale and Harvard, there’s already a lot of competition among students and reducing the amount of A’s might even create more competition,” she said.

In the memo, Malkiel said one concern about the new policy may involve grading discrepancies between large and small classes. Malkiel said the University needs to be sensitive in assessing the range of student performance in different classroom environments.

Students are concerned about ways in which the grading policy could affect competition for graduate school admissions, Stubbe said. But after discussing the new system with graduate school administrators, Malkiel said they vowed to take Princeton’s grading system into account before making admissions decisions.

A grader evaluates students’ papers. On Wednesday, Princeton introduced proposals to curb inflation. Yale does not release grade distribution information.
Stephanie Dziczek
A grader evaluates students’ papers. On Wednesday, Princeton introduced proposals to curb inflation. Yale does not release grade distribution information.

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