Grad. Sch. may use A-F grades

Graduate students’ transcripts may look a little different beginning in the fall of 2007 if the faculty approves a proposal to replace the school’s current Honors/High Pass/Pass grading system with letter grades.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said faculty brought the idea of changing the grading policy to the school’s Executive Committee about two years ago, but the Committee put the proposal on hold until this fall in order to engage in a more comprehensive discussion.

“Evaluating students is extraordinarily important,” Butler said. “It’s mainly a concern about providing students with the kind of feedback that they really have a right to expect.”

Yale’s graduate program is the only one in the Ivy League that uses the H/HP/P system. Graduate School Assembly chair Ian Simon GRD ’08 said many in the school think the system puts students at a disadvantage when applying for jobs and fellowships because it is unfamiliar and precludes the calculation of a grade point average. Students and faculty members also said the current grading scale exacerbates grade inflation because there are only three possible scores students can receive.

But others said improving the quality of faculty feedback is more important than changing the grading scale and that instead of cutting down on inflation, an A-F system would promote more cutthroat competition among students. Some said there has not been enough communication between the administration and the student body to consider the change seriously.

The Committee’s proposal was distributed to all faculty members prior to Monday’s meeting, and it was discussed by members of the student body on Nov. 29.

Simon said the GSA has not taken an official position because its membership is divided on the issue. Humanities students have tended to oppose the transition, he said, while science students have generally been more in favor of it.

Graduate Student and Employees Organization spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said GESO is against a shift to a new grading system. Since it will be the most “substantial academic policy change” put forth in years, it merits a much more extensive discussion, he said. He said GESO surveys this semester have shown that students are much more concerned with feedback from professors than the format of grades.

“No one expressed real concern about the grading system, but what they were concerned about was the quality of the feedback we get from the faculty,” Cobb said. “What’s hard to do right now is to take coursework and turn that into publishable material.”

English professor William Deresiewicz said while he does not think the change will make a significant difference for students, he favors the letter grade scale because the current system may cause grade inflation. Of the three possible grades, “Pass” is considered so bad that professors rarely use it, and many “High Passes” also reflect poorly on a student, he said. Although about 80 percent of the grades he gives are “Honors,” Deresiewicz said, in many cases an intermediate grade would be more appropriate and he does not think an equivalent number of students would earn straight A’s.

Pharmacology professor Elias Lolis said he thinks an A-F system would eliminate the ambiguity of the current scale.

“Many students think the grade of P is a decent grade because it is not F,” he said in an e-mail. “On the contrary, P is not an acceptable grade for a graduate student.”

But Kendall Heitzman GRD ’09 said he thinks the new scale would neither allow for more effective feedback nor combat inflation.

“One system is just as capricious as another,” he said in an e-mail. “What it will do is foster mindless competition for grades and make students from diverse situations — those who have been accepted for their promise rather than their background or those who are coming to do graduate work in a different field from their undergraduate major — feel less welcome at the Graduate School .”

Simon said he hopes his presentation to the faculty on Monday will be the first of many faculty-student discussions about the grading system. He said subsequent meetings will eventually result in a faculty vote next semester on whether to implement the A-F system.

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